Afghan Refugee Crisis
After the US fully withdrew from the 20 year long war, the ultraconservative organization, the Taliban started to take control of the Afghan state in August. The evacuation of many Afghan refugees included more than 600,000 since January 2021. Some Afghan refugees have fled to the US through connections to the government during the 20 year war, but there are many obstacles in obtaining SIVs (special immigrant visas). Additionally, the dangers of the Kabul airport is a dangerous barrier itself. As the media sheds away from the beginning of the crises, many are ignoring two realities: the past and the future.
The past being the 71,000 civilian casualties from the war in a country that they wrongly accused of terrorism.
The future being the refugees who are lacking support and are still displaced in their own country or are just starting to settle here in the states, including the 55,000 refugees currently living in US military bases.
1980s: In 1978 on Christmas Eve, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, causing no less than “one million Afghans” to flee to Pakistan (refworld). This attack was instigated by the Soviet Union as a consequence to their ties with the new communist government of Afghanistan. The origins of this government began in April of that same year, when Military officers supported by the Soviet Union launched a successful coup against Mohammad Daud Khan, the president of Afghanistan’s centrist government at the time. However this new government was not well liked by the people such as the mujahideen, a group of guerilla fighters funded by the US, which included Al-Qeada and the Taliban. The government partnered with the Soviet Union in an attempt to eradicate anyone who was opposed to the new government (britannica), erupting a civil war. As a result of these actions, Afghan people began to flee in order to get away from the violence and disorder their country was now under.
2001: On September 11, 2001, terrorists, led by Al-Qaeda, hijacked 4 airplanes that killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. This resulted in George W. Bush declaring a “war on terror,” prompting other world leaders to do the same. Airstrikes were launched at Taliban and al- Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and ground attacks began soon after, worsening the already terrifying situation for more than 20 years.
The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States resulted in many Afghan citizens fleeing, fearing U.S. strikes would bomb their homes. They mainly fled to Pakistan and Iran at the time. Even before 9/11, Afghans have been facing famine conditions from the recent drought and the civil war. Many humanitarian aiding agencies withdrew from Afghanistan once the 9/11 attacks occurred for security reasons leaving many in very vulnerable states. According to Brown University, 5.9 million Afghans have been displaced internally since 9/11. The war exacerbated these conditions and left Afghan citizens no choice but to leave their country to seek shelter and food.
(Refugees in Afghanistan and/or US)
Afghan immigrants yield much lower incomes compared to the rest of the US population, earning a median income about $19,000 less than that of other US immigrants. They are also twice as likely to be in poverty. Afghan immigrants in the US have exhibited lower overall educational attainment than the standard US and foreign-born populations. Educational attainment is also unequal within Afghan immigrant populations (men being more educated than women) resulting in an inequality in the types of jobs they are employed in. In comparison to other US immigrants, Afghan refugees participate in the labor force at a lower rate, Afghan women participating even less. Such a discrepancy is tied back to the educational barriers Afghan women face as observed in the US and back in Afghanistan.
Compared to the overall immigrant population, Afghan immigrants have higher rates of health insurance coverage and welfare use.
Remittance flows to Afghanistan have declined by approximately $40 million from 2019, reflecting the impacts of pandemic related economic crises.
The socioeconomic situation of Afghanistan was already poor and has worsened since the Taliban takeover. It will continue to decline in the absence of foreign aid. Much of the Afghan population is predicted to fall further below the poverty line, accompanied by increased food insecurity and a collapse in health and education resources. Such factors provide a negative outlook for Afghanistan’s predominantly young population.
(Afghanistan + Afghan Refugee Diaspora)
Afghanistan is landlocked which means that getting supplies into the country requires the aid of at least 1 of the 6 countries surrounding it. Including the Hindu Kush mountain range which covers roughly ¾ of the country. The mountainous region makes it extremely difficult to transport anything throughout the country. With this difficult terrain, it’s created an extremely diverse population as each community is largely isolated from each other. Therefore there is a very little sense of Afghanistan national unity.
The mountain passes are extremely important choke points for insurgents to use to push back against foreign powers. For example the Khyber Pass was used to transport roughly 80% of the supplies US and NATO forces used. By blowing up a bridge along the pass, the US was forced to find many alternative routes from other countries to continue supplying their forces.
Afghanistan’s borders were arbitrarily drawn from outside foreign powers more than a century ago. And there are a vast diversity of ethnic groups with their own languages. The largest ethnic groups are the Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik, and Hazara. The Pashtun being the largest group of all. However, the majority of the Pashtun population lives outside of Afghanistan in the neighboring Pakistan. The Pashtun never recognized this border and routinely cross it as it was drawn by outsiders and cuts through the middle of their territory. And due to the geographically mountainous and rural region, it’s virtually impossible for a government to routinely patrol that border. This allows the Pashtun insurgents to retreat into neighboring Pakistan, recruit more men, then return to Afghanistan resupplied. There are hundreds of passageways through the mountain which makes this a serious crossing point of drugs, arms, and militants.
Due to 30 years of constant warfare and occupancy from the Soviets and the US, Afghanistan refugees have fled the country. And prior to the Syrian refugees from the recent Syrian war, Afghanistan refugees numbered the most compared to any other nation. They mostly live in nearby Pakistan and Iran, however, there are hundreds of thousands spread out across the world including the US, UK, and Australia.
The resettlement process in the United States is an involved and luck based process that involves multiple screenings and interviews. This process was no more efficient before US withdrawal where approximately 20 of the 24 thousand
of refugees that evacuated Kabul last summer are still currently residing in temporary military sites. With the sudden US withdrawal and the influx of refugees requiring resettlement, the government requires greater numbers of volunteers
and donations to keep the system afloat.
After the withdrawal of the US, there are currently 403,000 applications pending. Those who were lucky enough to come during the withdrawal were those who helped significantly in the US war efforts, had a visa, or had family in the
US to call for Family Reunification. However, after a bombing at an airport in Afghanistan departing to the US, many of these efforts have been lowered. Even those who have parole status (those who helped the US in some way, such
as a translator) receive less benefits/incentives than those who apply as a refugee normally, such as no support for a path toward permanent residence. There have been efforts to put paroles in the same lieu of benefits other refugees
receive (the WELCOME Act), and having private resettlement agencies increase the amount of time required for them to support a single refugee for them to receive $2,275 compensation. There are also advocates for a legalization program
for refugees to be guaranteed a green card within a year of coming to the US.
There are also uncertainties when it comes to refugees whose applications were denied and must be deported from the US as the last deportation flight was in 2020. It is very clear that the resettlement process for refugees has been
ill planned for and the sudden influx of refugees have created fear and uncertainty. The Biden Administration claims to be having “ongoing” conversations about the long-term plans for Afghan Refugees and how they may facilitate employment
and integration in American Communities.
Welcoming Evacuees Coming from Overseas to Mitigate Effects of Displacement Act of 2021, or WELCOMED Act
To authorize resettlement benefits for certain nationals of Afghanistan, and for other purposes.
Improving Access for Afghan Refugees Act
This bill requires the Department of State to provide priority refugee status to eligible habitual residents of Afghanistan. For refugee applications under this bill, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security shall ensure that all steps in the approval process in the U.S. government’s control are completed within six months of an application’s submission, with exceptions for cases that need more time to address national security concerns.
Averting Loss of Life and Injury by Expediting SIVs (ALLIES) Act of 2021
This bill increases the number of special immigrant visas available to qualified Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. government or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) missions in Afghanistan. The bill also relaxes certain qualifications for such visas.
Fiscal Year 2022 Continuing Resolution, which will keep the government funded through December 3, 2021, and includes $6.3 billion in emergency funding support for Afghans.
How to Support:
Raise awareness about the legislation, whether it is through social media or organizations, like GROWTHH.
Let your local legislators know and send them a letter about your support.