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Number of Afghans Seeking to Leave Their Country Rises

FILE - Afghan men and boys wait in line to receive donated sacks of wheat distributed by the World Food Program in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2013.
FILE - Afghan men and boys wait in line to receive donated sacks of wheat distributed by the World Food Program in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2013.

The number of Afghans who want to flee their country, citing worsening economic and security conditions, has soared, despite pleas by their leaders to stay and rebuild their nation.

Afghan officials say the number of applications for new passports has increased dramatically in recent months, and they are ill-equipped to deal with the pressure.

Residents in Kabul witness hundreds of men and women arriving early each morning to line up outside the city’s only passport office.

Officials say that until a year ago they were processing and delivering passports in just two days. But the head of the passport office, Sayed Omar Saboor, says applicants now wait 40 days to receive their document.

He told VOA’s Afghan service that roughly 10,000 people a day apply for passports, and most of them want to leave the country, citing uncertainty.

“Our staff is working in two shifts, but we cannot meet the demand and I am worried our problems will multiply in the coming days,” Saboor said.

Fleeing to Europe

Afghanistan's infrastructure is battered from nearly four decades of war. And now, as Western allied forces draw down, and many aid agencies are cutting back, the growth seen in the past few years is slowing, discouraging many Afghans.

Tens of thousands of Afghans are among the hundreds of thousands of people flooding into Europe in recent months, in hope of asylum and better lives. Like the others, the Afghans are paying thousands of dollars to human smugglers and are risking their lives by undertaking illegal journeys overland and then across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.

Rizwan Ullah, waiting in the line outside the passport office, says “there is no employment in our area and I want to get my passport to be able to go abroad and earn a livelihood so I could feed my family.”

President Ashraf Ghani used his Eid festival message to reassure Afghans his government is determined to bring a considerable change in the national economy through proposed domestic development and regional cooperation projects.

“Let’s come together and see for ourselves how we can have a better future," he said in his message. "The first step is that we overcome pessimism and hopelessness.”

Ghani said that the cost of war is being born by all Afghans, especially by those of the country’s youth who go outside Afghanistan in search of work.

Skeptical about promises

Nicolas Haysom, head of United Nation's Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, says the war-ravaged country is facing a tough security situation and economic contraction as a result of the shrinking international presence.

“And so many (Afghans) look very closely at how the future is unfolding and there are undoubtedly many who are despondent about the future,” a UNAMA statement quoted Haysom as saying.

He went on to emphasize the need for the continued international support for Afghanistan “than disengage from Afghanistan and have to deal with the refugee problem as a result.”

But many Afghans are skeptical about promises President Ghani and other leaders have made to bring security and economic prosperity to the country.

They cite rampant corruption plaguing official institutions and lack of reforms, particularly in the judiciary, which critics say has failed to punish influential people who commit crimes and those with links to the government.

The Taliban has also stepped up attacks around the country and the United Nations has documented an unprecedented rise in civilian casualties in the first half of the year.

And there are yet no signs of a peace and reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, further discouraging investment and economic activity.