One Year after Taliban Rule: Afghan Refugees...
The Afghan refugee crisis is one of the largest protracted refugee situations in the world. Today, over 6 million Afghans have been driven out of their homes and their country by conflict, violence and poverty. Of those, 3.5 million are displaced within Afghanistan, with 2.6 million Afghan refugees living in other countries. These numbers have been exacerbated by the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in August 2021 and the critical humanitarian crisis Afghanistan is facing today. As Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan, Afghans who had worked with foreign governments and militaries, and some in Afghanistan’s government, military, and security positions fled the country at short notice to take refuge in other countries, and in some cases leaving behind family members. However, regrettably, many Afghan refugees do not enjoy their rights under international law even in the western countries. They continue to face violence, ill-treatment and pushbacks. They also face discrimination and struggle to access basic services, education, work, identity and travel documents. Some of these continuing challenges have been explained here:
Tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. military, as interpreters or in other roles, remain desperate for a new home a year after the U.S. left their country. Thousands have not been able to leave Afghanistan. Thousands more are stuck on military bases in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates. Others are newly arrived to American neighborhoods — but still struggling to adjust to life in the U.S. For Afghans who helped American forces but were left behind after the U.S. evacuation, the past year has been marked by fear, hiding and frustration as prospects of securing a visa, let alone a flight out, have dwindled.
The Biden administration has confronted the limits of a slow and outdated immigration system and the challenges of vetting the sheer number of Afghans who might be eligible for some type of resettlement in the U.S. Many human rights advocates feel deeply frustrated that those left behind in Afghanistan have not received equal attention President Biden’s aggressive push to admit up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees has generated resentment among those clamoring for his administration to help extract the tens of thousands of Afghan citizens desperate to escape Taliban rule now after the calamitous end of America’s war there.
It has been one year since Canada began accepting fleeing Afghans through its one-year special immigration program for Afghans who helped the Canadian government, set up a few weeks before Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. To date, roughly 17,170 Afghans have arrived in Canada, while the Liberal government closed its immigration program to new applicants, less than halfway toward its goal of bringing 40,000 Afghans to Canada. On the other hand, many Afghan refugees who have succeeded the journey, still wait for their papers to be processed by the federal government and multiple refugees have no social insurance numbers and can't get work — their lives on hold.
In September 2021, the Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee launched an inquiry to consider the role of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office during and after the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The committee published its findings in a report, which "identified systemic failures of intelligence, diplomacy, planning and preparation". The UK's withdrawal from Afghanistan last year was a "disaster" and a "betrayal" that will damage the nation's interests for years, the inquiry has found. The UK government says it has evacuated more than 15,000 people since last year and is working to bring more to the UK. However, a group of Afghan journalists who also worked closely with the UK media for years have revealed how they face beatings, death threats and months in hiding, and accuse the government of reneging on a pledge to bring them to Britain.
This is while in the chaos of last summer’s evacuation from Kabul, the government announced that it was issuing special visa waivers for Afghan journalists who had worked with UK media, and their families. On the other hand, more than half of the 20,000 Afghans who have arrived in Britain in the last year are still in temporary accommodation, unable to put down roots and rebuild their lives.
Among those refugees who are still awaiting immigration decisions, the main concern was the complete lack of information about their legal status and the long delays in the resettlement process timescale. This uncertainty has had serious consequences for their rights to work, but also heavily impacted on participants’ mental health and wellbeing. While about 100,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Britain in recent months and most are being hosted by British families under a scheme called Homes for Ukraine, refugee support groups have urged the government to set up a Homes for Afghans scheme allowing businesses, civic groups, faith groups, military charities and others to sponsor Afghans with offers of accommodation. Nevertheless, the government declined to comment on the proposal, but said that aside from liaising with local authorities it was encouraging property developers and the private rental sector to offer housing.
The experience of Afghan asylum seekers in France differs considerably depending on how they arrive in the country, reflecting a tension across Europe between rhetoric about the need to protect people from Taliban persecution and the reality of an erosion of access to asylum. Around 2,600 Afghans who were airlifted from Kabul by France in the weeks after the Taliban took control of the capital – as well as several hundred others quietly evacuated in recent months – have been given preferential access to housing and are having their asylum claims fast-tracked. Meanwhile, those who make the long and dangerous trek overland face policies that reduce the likelihood of them receiving protection, and often end up homeless once they arrive.
On the other hand, human Rights organizations has accused France of double standards in its treatment of refugees. The rights groups said that Ukrainians fleeing war are being treated differently from refugees of other nationalities, citing in particular Afghans fleeing the Taliban last year. In April 2022, nearly fifty young foreigners from Guinea, Mali, and Afghanistan were reportedly informed that they would be imminently kicked out of their shelter to make way for incoming Ukrainian refugees.
Without being provided an alternative, the youth, some of whom are minors, said they would end up homeless. This has led to the disruption of educational activities attended by the youth in question as well as threatening their general well-being and mental health. The incident comes shortly after 60 Afghans have reportedly been kicked out of their shelter in order to clear space for Ukrainian refugees.
Similarly, in Germany, many asylum seekers, including entire families, have been relocated from their shelters to provisional reception centers to make way for Ukrainian refugees without the opportunity to object or appeal the decision. While global attention is focused on the conflict and resulting refugee crisis in Ukraine, the international community cannot afford to ignore the “very grave” situation in Afghanistan. Now, nearly one year after the U.S. withdrawal, thousands of Afghans feel abandoned by the western allies that they chose to help, as more and more families slip through the cracks.
Afghan refugees were also expecting protection or asylum for their contributions during the war against the Taliban, but since arriving in their respective host countries, they have faced poor housing conditions, difficulty finding gainful employment, and a bewildering mountain of paperwork demanded by immigration authorities. The refugee resettlement systems have been so overwhelmed by the volume of arrivals that the "welcome" many have received is far from ideal.