KABUL: Eighteen Afghans deported from Germany arrived in Kabul yesterday after their asylum pleas were rejected, the third batch to be sent back in recent months as Berlin speeds up the expulsions. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved new measures on Wednesday to expedite the repatriations even as controversy rages over sending people back to strife-torn Afghanistan. “An elderly man was among the deportees and the rest were young Afghans who arrived in a charter plane from Munich,” Kabul airport official Taimoor Shah Hamidi said.

They were part of a third wave of repatriations of Afghans from Germany since December under a disputed Afghan-European Union deal aimed at curbing the influx of migrants. Nearly 80 Afghans, all men, have so far been sent back after their asylum applications were rejected by the German government. Berlin is under pressure to act as the migrant influx has boosted a right-wing populist and anti-immigration movement, and the number of far-right hate crimes against foreigners has soared. Under new measures to speed up repatriations, German immigration officials will be allowed to access smartphones and other digital devices of asylum seekers to help determine their identity and country of origin if they claim to have lost their passport.

While Germany granted safe haven to most people from war-torn Syria, the government has argued that it can safely repatriate people to Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, where German troops are part of NATO forces seeking to create stability. But the government has faced increasing opposition at the state level against sending Afghan nationals back home to an increasingly dangerous environment. In early Feb, 23-year-old Atiqullah Akbari suffered shrapnel injuries in a militant attack in Kabul, two weeks after he was deported from Germany. Akbari was picked up by German police in January from his home in Bavaria where he had sought refuge.—AFP