Afghan refugee crisis goes global: Hapless evacuees hope for a place as countries look for space

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has resulted in a human catastrophe as it triggered a mass exodus of Afghan people who are desperate to...

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has resulted in a human catastrophe as it triggered a mass exodus of Afghan people who are desperate to flee the clutches of the militant group.

The United Nations has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee the country by the end of the year and has called on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open.

The current crisis comes on top of the 2.2 million Afghan refugees already in neighbouring countries and 3.5 million people forced to flee their homes within Afghanistan's borders.

What happens next? Where do these refugees go?

How many Afghans were evacuated?

The United States-led operation to evacuate people by air has now ended, with the last flight taking off from Kabul airport just after midnight on Tuesday — a deadline agreed with the Taliban for foreign forces to withdraw.

More than 123,000 civilians were evacuated by US forces and its coalition partners after the Taliban took control of the capital on 14 August — but it's unclear exactly how many of those were Afghan nationals.

The US has said that it flew nearly 80,000 civilians out of Kabul and of those, about 5,500 were Americans and more than 73,500 were either Afghans or other foreign nationals. The UK Ministry of Defence, which ended its evacuations on Saturday, said it had flown out more than 15,000 people and some 8,000 of them were Afghans.

Where do Afghan refugees go?

As per the 2020 data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, neighbouring countries Pakistan and Iran saw the highest numbers of Afghanistan's refugees and asylum seekers.

Almost 1.5 million fled to Pakistan in 2020, while Iran hosted 780,000, according to UNHCR figures.

Germany was third, with more than 180,000, while Turkey took nearly 130,000.

What are countries doing now to help?

United States

On 2 August, the US Department of State announced the Priority 2 (P-2) designation which grants US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) access to certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members.

As per reports, the US is expected to take in over 10,000 Afghan nationals, which will mostly include the people who helped the government.

President Joe Biden has also authorised $500 million for "unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan, including applicants for special immigrant visas".

United Kingdom

The UK has announced that it will accept 20,000 Afghan refugees in the coming years as part of a new resettlement programme that will prioritise women, girls and religious and other minorities.

British prime minister Boris Johnson’s government said 5,000 people would be resettled in the UK within the first year of the programme, which has been compared with a previous scheme for Syrian refugees.

Canada

Canada has said that it will resettle 20,000 Afghans, focusing on those in danger from the Taliban, including government workers and women leaders.

India

India has introduced a new category of e-visa for Afghan nationals to fast-track their applications for entry into the country. These visas will be valid for six months only and it is not clear what will happen after this period elapses.

Iran

Iran has set up emergency tents for refugees in three of its provinces which border Afghanistan. But senior officials from the Iranian interior ministry have said that any Afghans who crossed into Iran would "once conditions improve, be repatriated".

Pakistan

The Imran Khan-led government said it would seal its border with Afghanistan but so far Afghans have been allowed to cross over to Pakistan.

In June, Khan had told the New York Times that Islamabad did not want another influx of refugees from its neighbour, as officials were struggling to cope with the estimated three million Afghan migrants already residing in Pakistan.

Turkey

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his government will work to help stabilise Afghanistan but he has urged European countries to take responsibility for any new migrant crisis, saying Turkey would not be "Europe's migrant warehouse".

Turkey has stepped up the construction of a border wall with Iran to keep migrants out. All the refugees heading towards Turkey will face a three-metre high wall, ditches, or barbed wire with the government trying to block the entry of refugees.

Started in 2017, the government will add another 64 km to a border wall by the end of 2021.

European Union

Most European nations are wary of taking in Afghan refugees fearing a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis.

As of now Germany has indicated that it will accept some Afghans, but has not specified numbers.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faced sharp criticism for her open-door policy towards migrants in 2015, has said that her government was focused on making sure that refugees "have a secure stay in countries neighbouring Afghanistan".

Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron said that Europe must "protect itself from significant waves of illegal migrants" from Afghanistan. He said France would "protect those who are in the most danger", but added: "Europe cannot take on the consequences from the current situation alone."

Austria and Switzerland have ruled out taking any Afghan refugees.

It has been learnt that European Union officials are preparing a package of up to €600 million to pay Afghanistan’s neighbours in a bid to ward off an “uncontrolled large-scale” wave of refugees heading to the EU.

It could mean Brussels would provide cash to Pakistan, possibly to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and even to Iran, which is under international sanctions.

Other countries committing to taking 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.

Russia

Russia has said that it does not want Afghan militants arriving under the cover of refugees.

As one expert said that most Western countries, especially the United States, has had a hand in the mess that Afghanistan is in and therefore, it is their moral obligation to take in the people who have suffered owing to this 20-year-long conflict.

No one can undo the damage done over the past two decades. But, at the very least, countries should offer genuine aid to help those suffering.

With inputs from agencies

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India World News: Afghan refugee crisis goes global: Hapless evacuees hope for a place as countries look for space
Afghan refugee crisis goes global: Hapless evacuees hope for a place as countries look for space
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