Denmark wants to deport a dying Afghan rights’ activist and it is plain wrong

Denmark wants to deport a dying Afghan rights’ activist and it is plain wrong


Zarmeena Waziri was not always sick and confined to a bed. But now she lies destitute in her daughter’s apartment in Aarhus, Denmark. 

Waziri’s case has been attracting international attention for years, and in 2017, the New York Times did a detailed story about her plight. Last month, she was in the news again.

She is 72 years old and suffers from severe dementia.  She arrived in Denmark in 2012 and sought asylum after fleeing her native Afghanistan because of her work on women’s rights. 

In May, her final appeal to have her case reconsidered for asylum was rejected, based on unduly strict laws put in place by successive governments with increasingly tight asylum policies. Despite a left leaning government coming to power in the country now, political rhetoric has been anything but liberal. 

Danish laws are designed to drastically reduce the number of asylum seekers, and have caused the number of refugees granted asylum status to fall from over 70 in 2012 to just 3 people by 2017, according to the New York Times. Whether the left or right is in power, Denmark has been getting ever tougher on migrants.

It was in 1964 that Afghanistan finally had a constitution that did not ban women from holding political office and it was based on this constitution that a young, hopeful Zarmeena ran for election, albeit unsuccessfully. But she became a pioneer of women’s rights in Afghanistan and helped advocate for equal rights for women, equal pay and better mechanisms to report violence against them. 

Then the 90’s brought with them the Taliban, and Waziri saw the very rights she had spent so much time fighting for, throttled and annihilated. 

But the Danish government does not care for any of this now. It argues that Waziri requires a doctor’s diagnosis of dementia to be able to make a health-related claim that permits her to stay. It is a clever ploy, because being an asylum seeker, she does not have access to the Danish healthcare system. According to her daughter, the cost of seeing a private doctor at full price for diagnosis is roughly $13,500 which is money she simply does not have.

Instead, her family has been asked to bring her to an immigration center for immediate deportation.  So far, they have refused to do so. Waziri’s condition does not allow her to get out of bed, use the bathroom or even swallow on her own. And transporting her is difficult if not impossible.

In insisting on implementing a policy that treats a poor and destitute woman with such cruelty, Denmark has veered far from the values that it once espoused as a country.

Rafia Zakaria

In insisting on implementing a policy that treats a poor and destitute woman with such cruelty, Denmark has veered far from the values that it once espoused as a country. 

Denmark was one of the original members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a conglomeration created in the aftermath of World War II which had created millions of refugees. In that moment, the Western world, much of which had been ravaged by the horrific pogroms and extermination of Jews, was committed to uniting under the values of equal rights and basic dignity for all human beings. 

Now, a 72 year old woman with dementia is being put on a plane home to make a point that Denmark is no longer that hospitable.

Waziri has no family in Afghanistan. All the relatives she had there are either dead or have fled the war to Western countries. Both of her daughters live in Denmark and are Danish citizens. She lives with one of her daughters, Marzi, who runs a small grocery store and is responsible for the full time care of her mother who often chokes on morsels of food because she does not remember how to swallow. 

Denmark was part of the NATO alliance that fought the Taliban in Afghanistan and like most NATO countries, the Danes pushed the premise that the war in Afghanistan was, at least in part, to liberate Afghan women from the clutches of the Taliban. The Taliban were cruel and disrespectful of women and children, particularly, of the rights of women to occupy public spaces. Zarmeena Waziri and her daughter are the women the Danes proclaim to have fought for.

Now the government argues that Waziri has a single nephew on her husband’s side of the family who could be her care-giver in Afghanistan. The family’s remonstrations that he belongs to the Taliban have done nothing to change their views.

On June 20, 2019, the world commemorates World Refugee Day amid record displacement worldwide and as UN member states, which includes Denmark, offer speeches about their commitment to people who can no longer safely stay in their homes, the words are tainted by a self-serving hypocrisy rife with cruelty.

For Zarmeena Waziri — a women’s rights activist who devoted her life to the cause of humanity in Afghanistan — it appears Denmark has no sympathy and no room.

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