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.



Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel.

A stranger knocked on the door of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday morning shortly before Shabbat service. It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, 46, made him a cup of tea. The rabbi and Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British national, spoke for a few moments and then the rabbi went on to perform his regular 10 a.m. Shabbat prayers for his congregation.

When the rabbi turned his back to face Jerusalem, he heard a click come from the stranger. "And it turned out, that it was his gun," Cytron-Walker told CBS News.

Akram began screaming and a congregant, Jeffrey Cohen, the vice president of the synagogue's board of trustees, quickly pulled out his phone and dialed 911. A livestream broadcasting the prayer ceremony to congregants participating from home caught some of what Akram was shouting. "I'm gunned up. I'm ammo-ed up," he told someone he called nephew. "Guess what, I will die."

The FBI got word of the 911 call and quickly set up a perimeter around the synagogue. Akram took four people hostage, including the rabbi.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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