Accessibility links

Breaking News

How Will the World Help Afghan Refugees?

update

In this photo provided by the Spanish Defence Ministry, people board a Spanish air force A400 plane as part of an evacuation plan at Kabul airport in Afghanistan, Aug.18, 2021.

Amid the crisis precipitated by the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, global discussion on how to aid refugees and internally displaced persons at risk has led to limited action from Western nations.

Canada said it will accept up to 20,000 Afghan refugees who have been threatened by the Taliban. These refugees are in addition to and separate from those Afghans who helped its government. But no timetable has been set, and sources say it will not occur all in one year.

The British government announced Tuesday a new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, which will be modeled on the scheme set up for Syrian refugees. It will welcome 5,000 Afghans to the U.K. this year, and a total of 20,000 over five years. That is on top of entry for translators and Afghan contractors who worked with U.K. forces.

FILE - Former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a demonstrations against the U.S. government, in front of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, June 25, 2021. The House voted July 22 to allow in Afghans who worked alongside Americans in the war.
FILE - Former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a demonstrations against the U.S. government, in front of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, June 25, 2021. The House voted July 22 to allow in Afghans who worked alongside Americans in the war.

The United States has had a similar program in place for several years. The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) covers Afghans and Iraqis who formally worked for the U.S. military and at the U.S. Embassy, particularly as translators and interpreters. In July, Congress authorized an additional 8,000 SIVs, bringing the total to 34,500 since late 2014.

However, many have complained that the process was backlogged even before the military withdrawal.

"The U.S. government … really only had the SIV visa," Deepak Ahluwalia, an immigration attorney in Fresno, California, told VOA.

Pakistan is reinforcing the walls along its border with Afghanistan. In July, it said it would not accept any more Afghan refugees. Currently, Pakistan is home to 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Some organizations estimate that an additional 1.6 million live in Pakistan unregistered.

"We are willing to help, but we are in no position to take in new refugees this time around. The international forces and the U.N. should make arrangements for them inside Afghanistan," Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan's national security adviser, told VOA in a July interview.

Iran has set up hundreds of tents in three regions bordering Afghanistan, Interior Ministry official Hossein Qasemi told Iran's state news agency, IRNA.

"We expect those Afghan refugees to return home when the situation improves in Afghanistan," Qasemi said. An estimated 780,000 Afghan refugees currently live in Iran, according to the latest U.N. figures.

Together, Iran and Pakistan host some 90% of Afghan refugees around the world.

Indian media reported Thursday that the Ministry of Home Affairs has created a new six-month E-Visa on arrival for Afghans of any religion who reach India.

Previously, India had announced visas for Afghans in the Hindu and Sikh religious minorities threatened by the Taliban.

Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, take refuge in a public park Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2021.
Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, take refuge in a public park Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2021.

Over half a million Afghans have been internally displaced in 2021, even before the U.S. military withdrawal and consequent Taliban takeover.

A number of European countries said they would suspend any returns to Afghanistan, but some European Union member states have expressed opposition to accepting refugees.

French President Emmanuel Macron received backlash Monday after a strong statement against Afghans traveling to Europe.

"We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger the migrants and risk encouraging trafficking of all kinds," he said.

In a video message sent Tuesday, Macron backtracked on this statement and reiterated his commitment to help, especially the Afghans who aided the French military.

However, France is one of several European countries that said it would halt returns to Afghanistan — a move lauded by the U.N., which is pushing other countries to do the same.

Devastating scenes from Kabul have been recorded since the Taliban claimed victory over the capital on Sunday. Desperate crowds sought safety and hoped to escape at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where multiple people were killed over the weekend.

But Joseph Azam, a board member of the Afghan American Foundation, told VOA that a vast majority of Afghans cannot get to Kabul or afford a flight — even when commercial flights become available again.

"Afghanistan is a country of anywhere from 35 to 40 million people. Kabul is 5 or 6 million. So, most of the people literally cannot leave by air," Azam said.

The barriers to leaving the country range from a lack of finances to the danger of traveling by land to an airport.

"For Afghans without connections or ... some status that allows them to technically be evacuated or given safe passage or a place to go, I think the prospects are bleak," Azam added.

Ahluwalia and Azam both noted that while the situation is changing daily, very little, if any, movement has been made by most countries to ensure safety or relocation of Afghans under threat from a new Taliban government.

"I had emails in my inbox from people in Afghanistan emailing me, saying, 'Hey, look, this is my information, and I just want to get out of here. Can you help me?'" Ahluwalia recounted. "And the answer is, I can't."

Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify details about Britain's and Canada's asylum and resettlement programs for Afghans.

XS
SM
MD
LG