If anything can give an indication of the mood of Afghans these days, it’s the rush to get a passport.
Getting a passport has never been so popular. Even early in the morning, the line snaking from Kabul’s passport office stretches for several blocks, composed of people worried about the faltering economy — and the threat of all-out war.
Precisely how many of those waiting patiently plan to flee is hard to nail down but estimates from Europe show that Afghans are second only to the number of Syrians in the flow of refugees that have made their way north in recent months.
Omar Saboor, the Director of the Passport Office, says every day 6 to 7,000 Afghans apply for new travel documents. He says since Europe opened its doors to refugees there has been a marked increase in applications, which he directly attributes to the change in policy
And for the city’s people smugglers, every successful application is a potential business opportunity.
One tells CNN that he’s moved 1,500 people to Germany, the most popular destination for those looking to flee, in the last 6 months.
He offers three different routes, of varying difficulty – and varying odds of success. For $7,000, the route is via the sea. For a couple of thousand more, you’re transported by road and foot.
The most expensive, which offers the best chance of getting to your final destination, is by air. This route costs you a cool $20,000, but top-dollar buys you a black market visa and direct flights.
But most opt for the cheaper, riskier, options.
“We have had people injured and killed along this journey,” the smuggler, who can’t be identified as his line of work is highly illegal, tells me.
Just over two weeks ago, he says, 70 people – including 15 of his clients – were caught by Iranians and deported from the Turkish border.
To mitigate the risk, the money is held by a trusted third party, who releases it to the smuggler once the person contacts him from their final destination. But at the end of the day, the people smugglers still get paid, even if the smuggled never make it — an informal system allows each would-be refugee three tries to make it through the net but if they fail at each of their three attempts, they still have to pay up proving that the smugglers still hold all the cards.