International Push to Provide Refuge to Afghani Citizens
In the context of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and other forces and the resurgence of the Taliban, there is an ongoing push to provide protection and refuge to vulnerable Afghani citizens. While the focus, at present, is extracting foreign nationals, there is a growing consensus that more will need to be done to help citizens of Afghanistan, many of whom fear for their lives. In this article, we look at some of the efforts to help vulnerable refugees caught up in the insurgence in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
How much of Afghanistan is in the control of the Taliban?
Every day, the Taliban is taking new ground leaving fewer regions in the hands of the government. As of 15th August 2021, 345 regions are in Taliban control, leaving only 41 which are being contested and 12 in government control. Most parts of Kabul are already in Taliban control. Given the speed by which the Taliban have been able to take over, it is likely that all regions will fall within days. Indeed, the Taliban have already announced that they have control of the country.
UK troops deployed to extricate Britons from Afghanistan
The UK’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, says the military part of Kabul is currently open and secure, allowing British forces to remove Britons in the next few days. The focus at present for the British forces is to remove British nationals and any Afghanistan nationals who worked for them. On Sunday 15th August 2021, 300 British passport holders were evacuated, and a further 1,500 will be removed in the following couple of days. Wallace told the media, “If we manage to keep it in the way we’re planning to, we should have the capacity for over 1,000 people a day to exit to the United Kingdom…Currently, this is not about capacity on planes, it’s about processing speeds, so that’s why I’m trying to fix that”. He also confirmed that the intention is to remove all of those who are eligible by the end of August; “If we can manage to keep the airport running in the way we are putting in place our people to deliver then I’m confident that by the end of the month we could get everyone out and actually hopefully sooner”.
Protection for vulnerable Afghani nationals fleeing persecution
Iran has announced that it is preparing for an influx of Afghans fleeing the Taliban, however, it has made it clear that such protection will be temporary; Hossein Qasemi, an Iranian interior ministry official, stated, “Camps have been built in border areas in three provinces…We expect those Afghan refugees to return home when the situation improves in Afghanistan”. Many are also trying to escape to neighbouring Pakistan.
According to Reuters, US President Biden, who has been widely criticised for his handling of the removal of US troops from the Afghanistan region, is now trying to secure deals to house at-risk Afghans who have worked for the US government and military. The US government has announced that 1,000 personnel will be dispatched to Qatar to help accelerate the handling of visa applications under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) scheme. According to the International Rescue Committee, “The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was created by Congress to provide permanent protection to Afghans affiliated with US missions such as translators and interpreters. Those eligible can apply for a visa for themselves, as well as for their spouse and any unmarried children under 21”. It is estimated that around 300,000 Afghan civilians are affiliated with the US government. On 2nd August 2021, the US Department of State also announced a new Priority 2 (P-2) designation providing greater access to the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for Afghan nationals and their eligible family members. This is for those who are not eligible for an SIV but:
- work or worked as employees of contractors, locally-employed staff, interpreters/translators for the US Government, United States Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or Resolute Support;
- Afghans who work or worked for a US government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a US government grant or cooperative agreement;
- Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based media organisation or non-governmental organisation.
From a UK perspective, Ben Wallace has announced that the UK will waive border controls for Afghan nationals seeking protection here. This means they will not need to show a passport on entry. Wallace stated, “Today, I’ll be speaking to Priti Patel about how we can deal with Afghan passports. Right up until the day before yesterday, the Afghans wouldn’t let Afghans leave without their passport. If they’ve already been through our checks, we know who they are, we need to see if we can make sure that we adapt the rules to get those people out as soon as we can. We will cycle them out from Afghanistan to a Middle East country and then back to the United Kingdom, so we can keep the flow of airplanes, in and out”. The Home Office is currently looking to implement a “bespoke refugee scheme” for Afghan nationals, however, so far, Boris Johnson has refused to put a number on the volume of people the UK will accept. Voicing his deep concern and frustration on Twitter, Rory Stewart, a former international development secretary who has close ties to Afghanistan, stated, “Very difficult to understand, I’m afraid, how this will help at this stage - the focus now needs to be on refugees, and humanitarian and development assistance for the fall-out from this tragedy”.
The UK and other safe havens around the world will all need to take their fair share of Afghan refugees in the coming weeks and months. This should not just be for those who have worked for the government or military of those countries, but all Afghan nationals who are in danger of persecution in their home country. We will keep you up to date with events as they unfold.