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Afghan asylum seekers follow pilgrims’ footsteps

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Aftenposten (Norway)

May 21, 2007

More than 70 asylum seekers from Afghanistan set off on a 648-kilometer march from Trondheim to Oslo over the weekend, following a so-called “Pilgrims’ Route” that’s meant to symbolize their plight.

Many of the refugees are now illegal aliens in Norway, after their applications for asylum were turned down. They risk being arrested by the police and deported at any time, but that’s not keeping them from marching.

To the contrary: “I feel more secure taking part in the march than I do as an illegal alien in Oslo,” a 21-year-old man who identified himself as “Amin” told newspaper Aftenposten. He said he came to Norway in 2003 and lost his final appeal for asylum last year.

“I’ve tried to get a job many times, but when I’m asked if I have working permission, I have to answer ‘no,'” he said. “I can’t keep living off my friends. That’s why this march is so important.”

He and the others participating hope their choice of the ancient trail used by pilgrims to the Nidaros cathedral in Trondheim will touch the hearts of Norwegians and build support for their cause. They’re afraid to return to Afghanistan, where war rages and the Taliban is making aggressive strides.

Amin claimed that eight persons were killed in a Taliban attack on his village last week. His parents and siblings have fled to Pakistan. “I have no family to return to in Afghanistan,” he said.

There are an estimated 1,900 Afghan refugees in Norway, and the majority have been denied asylum. The march isn’t the first time they’ve demonstratrated their desperation. Many staged hunger strikes last year.

“We’ve lived with war for 30 years in Afghanistan, and the situation is getting worse,” says march leader Zahir Athari. He says the marchers “are used to living every second in fear,” and the march offers them a chance to “stand forward” despite the risk of being apprehended.

The marchers plan to march durng the day and spend the nights outdoors in sleeping bags, just like they did when the initially fled Afghanistan. Some of them walked as many as 3,000 kilometers then.

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Written by afghandevnews

May 22, 2007 at 1:56 am

Posted in Refugees

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