ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Khadija Jafari cries as she looks at the asylum-seeker’s home in Croatia where she, her sister and their three children have spent three nights since they were deported from Austria.
The two women arrived in Austria as asylum-seekers from Afghanistan in 2016. They did their best to integrate by learning German and enrolling the children in school, Jafari said.
“I cry every day, every night, and cannot sleep. My child says every day, ‘Why am I not going to kindergarten?” she told The Associated Press in German during an interview in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. “We cannot stay here.”
Austrian authorities argued the family should be sent to Croatia because of European Union regulations that require asylum-seekers to apply for protection in the first EU country they reached.
The European Court of Justice agreed in a landmark July ruling that puts the residency status of tens of thousands of other refugees in doubt.
After they fled Afghanistan, Jafari, her 4-year-old son, her sister and the sister’s two children traveled through Serbia to Croatia, an EU member country since July 2013. Croatian authorities arranged transportation to Slovenia, and the sisters and their children made their way to Austria.
Christoph Riedl, a policy adviser with humanitarian aid group Diakonie, said Austria has deported hundreds of asylum-seekers under the EU’s “Dublin” agreement. But lawyers argued the Jafari family had become so well-integrated that they and others like them should be allowed to remain.
Even with the European court ruling in the sisters’ appeal, Austria did not have to deport them, Riedl said. The court stressed that the Dublin agreement permitted countries to “unilaterally or bilaterally in a spirit of solidarity… examine applications for international protection lodged with them, even if they are not required to.”
“Austria should simply have shown some heart and solidarity as the European Court of Justice demanded in its ruling,” Riedl said.
It was Sunday when Austrian authorities came for the family of five.
“We were sleeping in our room and then the police came,” Jafari recalled, wiping tears from her face. “I fled to my neighbor, and the police came to me with a dog and found us, and then they sent us here.”
Philipp Jenne contributed to this story from Vienna; Rising reported from Berlin.