An unparalleled humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Afghanistan due to Taliban’s return to power

UN has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee country by end of the year due to Taliban’s return to power. The number of Afghans wishing to leave the country could be much higher

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: PTI)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: PTI)

V Venkateswara Rao

A refugee is defined as a person who has been forced “to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence”.

“A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries,” as per UNHCR.

There are 26 million refugees globally and half of the world's refugees are children, as per data of Amnesty International. UNHCR reports that the number of displaced people today is higher than it was right after World War II.

More than two-thirds of all refugees came from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. Most of these refugees have been forced to leave everything behind because of economic crises, violence and persecution in their home countries.

As a result of America’s abandonment of Afghanistan, many Afghans are seeking to flee the country in fear of the brutal Taliban. The United Nations has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee the country by the end of the year, post-Taliban takeover of the country. The number of Afghans wishing to leave the country could be much higher.

The current crisis comes on top of the 2.2 million Afghan refugees already in neighbouring countries (Pakistan and Iran) and another 6 lakh Afghan refugees hosted by other countries (out of which Germany and Turkey together host about 3 lakh). India had the 10th highest number of Afghan refugees of about 15,100 in 2020.

As many as 3,00,000 Afghans have been affiliated with US operations in the country since 2001 (as translators, interpreters, contractors, support staff etc), making them eligible to obtain a US Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). The US says it has facilitated the evacuation of more than 1,22,000 people from Kabul airport, although it's not clear how many of those were Afghan nationals. Documents quoted by media outlet Fox News show that US plans to potentially relocate up to 30,000 Afghan SIV applicants in the immediate future, on its military installations including Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas.

The Biden administration, which is facing criticism for botching the evacuation of those that aided US-led forces in Afghanistan, has announced a new “Priority 2” category for Afghan nationals within the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). It would be applicable to the Afghan nationals and their immediate families who “may be at risk due to their US affiliation” but aren't able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the US government.

UK has flown out more than 15,000 of people, out of which some 8,000 are Afghan nationals. Other countries have flown out or promised to resettle a few more thousands of Afghan nationals. Canada has said that it will resettle 20,000 Afghans, focusing on those in danger from the Taliban, including government workers and women leaders.

Europe is sending mixed signals. With elections looming in Germany and France, European politicians are determined to avoid the sort of populist backlash that followed the 2015 refugee crisis. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, summed it up after meeting with ministers from across the bloc, saying that member states want “to ensure no wide-scale migratory move toward Europe”.

Several thousand Afghans are said to have fled into Pakistan using the Spin Boldak crossing point in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban are said to be restricting passage to Pakistan to traders and those with valid travel documents. Pakistan and Turkey governments had said that they have reached their limits and cannot accept more Afghan refugees. Reports also suggest several hundred Afghans, including soldiers from the Afghan National Army, crossed into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan has promised to shelter up to 1,00,000 Afghan refugees.

Taliban's control of Afghanistan will have negative consequences for the rights of women, minorities, political dissenters, artists, sports persons, professionals, ex-Afghan Army men and Afghans affiliated with US and NATO forces.

The scale of humanitarian crisis, emerging from a country that has fallen back into the hands of a brutal, militant and fundamentalist group, needs the whole hearted refugee and rehabilitation support from the developed countries as well as other Muslim countries.

(V Venkateswara Rao is an alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad and a retired corporate professional. Views are personal)

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