The rights of all Afghans must be upheld
We have been here before! In 2015, the so-called refugee crisis in Europe saw hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees attempt to find asylum in Europe. There were Afghans fleeing then, too.
Ordinary people welcomed and supported them, to the chagrin of the governments who wanted “Fortress Europe” closed; and slowly but surely they militarised the borders and changed the narrative so that asylum seekers became demonised as “migrants” to be feared and pushed back.
A pattern was set; the strategy worked. Slowly but surely, history is repeating itself as states ignore their international obligations, and the plight of millions of Afghans disappears from the front pages: out of sight and mind. This must not be allowed to happen!
Due to the so-called “War on Terror” and the 20-year US occupation, the people of Afghanistan have been under massive political, economic, and social pressure, causing a protracted conflict and a humanitarian crisis that has manifested through – among other things – food insecurity, corruption, poverty, and civilian casualties and harms, all further contributing to massive and continuous displacement. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in mid-2021, the situation has worsened and thousands of people have fled the country or attempted to leave, fearing violence, persecution, and the loss of basic human rights.
Right now, the Taliban are only allowing those with foreign travel authorisation to leave – and many countries are refusing to accept them. Other countries, many of which have been shamed into enabling refugees to enter, are failing to provide the financial or social support needed for people to recover from the trauma they have experienced.
In Texas, there are Afghan women living in military camps without access to basic sanitary provisions; brilliant women whose voices must be heard but who have been left without means to raise them and to protest, not knowing how long this particular incarceration will last.
Others have entered evacuation airplanes thinking they are going to one country but ending up arriving somewhere else. In the UK, refugees are in such desperate accommodation that they are saying they would rather risk going back. In Norway, refugees are being sent to the northernmost reaches of the country. Some countries have evacuated a handful of Afghans, using them as a media stunt while violently pushing back thousands more from their borders.
And many are still left behind. Most Afghans are not able to leave the country through evacuation schemes or regular channels. These channels must be created, or we risk leaving people in the most precarious positions behind.
We can do better than this!
There are now at least 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees around the world, with the majority in Iran and Pakistan. An additional 3.5 million Afghans are internally displaced, having been forced to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere in the country. Approximately 600,000 residents became internally displaced between January and July 2021 alone. This in a country where there are five million at imminent risk due to lack of basic necessities, the ravages of COVID-19, and the effects of drought.
The numbers are enormous but behind each statistic is a person with inalienable rights under international law. Yet as we write this, there is a resounding silence from states and from the UN agencies with responsibility for their protection. Where there should be leadership there is none!
Women are at particular risk, and instead of insisting on recognition of their rights, the international community – from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to the delegations from states meeting with the Taliban to the UN-led discussions in Doha – women are being excluded. State parties are compromising everything they said they would not as they scramble to sign deals for extraction rights for their companies, to “protect” their borders, or to ensure security to fight “terrorism”, conveniently forgetting that the Taliban is still a prescribed terrorrist organisation.
How quickly the political world moves on and the people they are supposed to protect become collateral damage in economic brinkmanship.
There is a choice. The UN system and our governments are letting us and the people of Afghanistan down – again. We can do nothing or we can insist on change.
- Tell your government that asylum is a right. That conditions for asylum seekers must ensure their dignity and rights and that there is a gender difference in what dignity looks like!
- Tell your government to immediately shift their focus from protecting the borders to protecting the people and ensuring everybody’s right to seek asylum.
- Tell them that support must be given to enable refugees to pass borders safely and continue travelling to their desired destination without the risk of getting stuck in overcrowded and inhumane conditions in neighbouring countries, waiting for years to have their visa applications resolved – causing yet another humanitarian crisis and negatively affecting the host countries as well. Process the visa applications expediently or remove the requirement altogether.
- Tell them to make sure that humane and durable alternatives to camps away from neighbouring countries are set up and financed. The international NGOs are already doing it with little financial support; with more resources, they could deliver on what it is that states and the UN are failing to do. The European Union has just pledged a billion euros for humanitarian aid and to address the security situation. That is progress, but they must be transparent in exactly where it is going! They should ensure that Afghan women are involved in making the decisions as to what is needed and where. That cannot be done from Brussels.
- Tell them that the UN must do what it is there for! We have had enough of the rhetoric of rights and the reality of negligence, hypocrisy, and abuse. Where are the women in the planning and delivery of humanitarian aid? Where are they in the delegations? Where is the Afghan refugee community in key forums and processes where the peace and the future of Afghanistan is discussed? Why is a man heading up UN Women in Kabul? Why is everybody else’s voice more important than the voices of the people of Afghanistan?
Afghan women should be front and centre of all things relating to their future and that of their country. Those of us who believe in rights, in peace, and in the obligations of states and the UN to make these real, have to support in all ways and in all spaces to enable that centreing. Anything less makes us complicit in their betrayal.