Where do Afghanistan’s refugees go once they're out of the country?

Images of thousands of Afghans desperately trying to flee their country following a hasty U.S. withdrawal have provoked an international outcry.

As of Aug. 22, 2021, some 6,000 U.S. troops were working to evacuate U.S. military, American citizens and Afghans who are approved for Special Immigrant Visas. SIVs are a special program to protect Afghans who risked their lives working for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Germany, France, Italy and the U.K. are conducting smaller evacuation efforts for their nationals and some Afghans.

The pace of these poorly planned evacuations has been slow. They are taking place amid chaos in Kabul, where crowds are being confronted by violence from members of the now-ruling Taliban and U.S. forces and facing checkpoints that are near-impossible to pass.


Shaharzad Akbar, who leads the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, called the situation "failure upon failure."

As a scholar specializing in forcible displacement and refugees, I see this harrowing scene unfolding within a broader context of Afghanistan's long-standing displacement crisis. This includes an unequal sharing of refugees between the developed world and economically disadvantaged countries.

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: UNHCR

A muted US role

The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 standardized the procedures for admitting refugees – people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution – and put in place a rigorous vetting process. But over the past 40 years, U.S. acceptance rates for refugees worldwide have fallen significantly – from 200,000 admitted in 1980 to less than 50,000 in 2019.

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. admitted more than 20,000 Afghan refugees – an average of roughly 1,000 per year. But during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, just 11,800 refugees from around the world settled in the U.S. – among them were only 495 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa recipients. That number seems tiny compared to the approximately 20,000 Afghans who are currently in the pipeline waiting for a SIV and the additional 70,000 Afghans — including applicants and their immediate family members — who are eligible to apply.

Europe hosts few Afghan refugees

For decades, Afghans have also migrated or fled to Europe. Between 2015-2016, 300,000 of them arrived on the continent. They were the second-largest group of refugees and asylum-seekers after Syrians. Asylum seekers are people seeking refugee status, but whose claim has yet to be evaluated.

The Afghan population across the European continent remains small and unevenly distributed. Up until the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, many Afghans were facing deportations. Germany is the largest European host, followed by Austria, France and Sweden.

For the first three months of 2021 about 7,000 Afghans were granted permanent or temporary legal status in the European Union. They are distributed between Greece, France, Germany and Italy, with smaller Afghan contingents in other EU states.

Australia – based on its 2016 census – has approximately 47,000 Afghans who are permanent residents, some of whom began arriving as early as 1979. Approximately another 4,200 Afghans have received temporary protected status.

Displaced within Afghanistan

This still leaves an enormous number of Afghans who are displaced without a permanent home. More than half a million have already been displaced by the violence so far in 2021 according to the U.N. refugee agency. Some 80% of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children.

As of 2021 and prior to the current crisis, at least 3.5 million Afghans remained uprooted within Afghanistan because of violence, political unrest, poverty, climate crisis and lack of economic opportunity.

Afghan refugees enter into Pakistan through a border crossing point in Chaman while a Pakistani army soldier stands guard.AP Photo/uncredited photographer

Afghan refugees in Pakistan

The vast majority of Afghan refugees do not settle in the West.

Pakistan, which shares a 1,640-mile land border with Afghanistan, has long absorbed the largest number of Afghan refugees even though it is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol. Within two years of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, following the conflict ignited by the rise of the Mujahideen, 1.5 million Afghans had become refugees. By 1986, nearly five million Afghans had fled to Pakistan and Iran.

Since March 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, had repatriated nearly 3.2 million Afghans, but in April 2021, the United Nations reported that more than 1.4 million Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan due to ongoing violence, unemployment and political turbulence in Afghanistan.

Iran also remains a significant host for Afghans, with nearly 800,000 registered refugees and at least two million more who are unregistered. Smaller numbers of Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers are in India (15,689), Indonesia (7,692) and Malaysia (2,478).

Turkey – the world's largest refugee host, with over 3.8 million registered Syrian refugees – has 980 registered Afghan refugees and 116,000 Afghan asylum-seekers.

Despite the presence of the Taliban, a group of protesters march with Afghan flags during the country's Independence Day rally in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 19, 2021Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As it stands today

The latest figures from the AP show that more than 47,000 Afghan civilians and at least 66,000 Afghan military and police forces have died in the 20-year-old Afghanistan war

The security situation in the country had been deteriorating in recent years. According to Brown University's Cost of War Project, an increasing numbers of Afghans have been killed as a result of crossfire, improvised explosive devices, assassinations by militant groups including the Taliban, night raids by U.S. and NATO forces and U.S.-led airstrikes.

Even prior to the Taliban takeover of Kabul, civilian casualties had risen by 29% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020. A U.N. report from July 26, 2021 found a 37% increase in the number of women killed and injured, and a 23% increase in child casualties compared with the first quarter of 2020.

With the Taliban takeover of Kabul, there is a growing concern for the safety of Afghanistan's women and girls, ethnic minorities, journalists, government workers, educators and human rights activists. Many Afghans desperate to leave remain outside Kabul and far from any airport.

U.S. evacuations will likely end once all Americans are out of Afghanistan. A few other western countries have committed to taking in small numbers of refugees, including Canada (20,000) and the U.K. (20,000 over 5 years).

Still, adoption of hard-line policies and anti-refugee sentiments across much of Europe means that relatively few Afghans will find sanctuary on the continent. Austria and Switzerland have already refused to take in large numbers of Afghans. Turkey, already straining with refugees, said it does not want to become "Europe's refugee warehouse."

Other countries committing to take in Afghans temporarily in small numbers include Albania, Qatar, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. Uganda, which already hosts 1.5 million refugees, mainly from South Sudan, has also agreed to take in 2,000 Afghans temporarily.

Ultimately, most Afghans able to leave the country will do so not in an aircraft, but on foot into Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan, already strained by its own economic and political struggles, will once again likely be the largest host for the most recently displaced Afghans.

But given that border crossings in the region are difficult and dangerous, the vast majority of uprooted Afghans will remain within Afghanistan's borders. Their considerable humanitarian needs, economic and political challenges, security concerns and resistance to the Taliban will shape the next chapter of the country's history.


Tazreena Sajjad is a Senior Professorial Lecturer of Global Governance, Politics and Security at the American University School of International Service as well as a pro-bono advisor for Refugee Solidarity Network (RSN).

This article first appeared on The Conversation. You can read it here.



True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
True

Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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