What future for refugees fleeing Afghanistan?

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  • Twenty years after September 11, Afghanistan remains marked by displacement and migration following the withdrawal of international troops.
  • Although some people have been evacuated, many remain trapped, and neighboring countries will be impacted by this crisis for years to come.
  • The international community must work together to counter the economic, political and security implications created by this humanitarian catastrophe.

Twenty years after the September 11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda, the country that was widely seen as a safe haven for those behind the attacks – Afghanistan – is once again without a functioning government and faces a double humanitarian and displacement crisis.

The intensity of the crisis was clear as US-led coalition forces worked tirelessly to evacuate their citizens and Afghans most exposed to violent retaliation from the Taliban. The unconditional withdrawal of troops from the US-led coalition, allowing the Taliban to gain ground and causing the collapse of the Afghan state, has exacerbated the conditions that will ensure that Afghanistan will remain one of the main countries to the world for travel and migration for years to come. .

In April 2021, the United States decided to withdraw its troops by the end of August, regardless of the repercussions on Afghanistan. Troops from other NATO nations followed due to their reliance on the superior capabilities of the US military. As the troops begin to leave, large swathes of territory across Afghanistan began to fall rapidly to the Taliban, leading to the collapse of Kabul on August 15.

Attention quickly turned to the emergency evacuation of foreign and Afghan nationals whose lives were considered most at risk. The evacuation was the most intense in recent history, transporting more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan in less than two weeks on military cargo planes. The images echoed the equally chaotic fall of Saigon some 45 years ago.

The humanitarian and displacement crisis resulting from these recent events will continue for years to come, with the greatest burden on the Afghan people and the countries neighboring Afghanistan. The “early displacement” saw thousands of people leave before the allies retreated, but only the minority with the resources and connections could do so.

Prior to current events, Afghanistan was already facing a humanitarian crisis, with half a million people internally displaced by conflict and disasters, over 800,000 Afghans newly repatriated from Iran and the United States. Pakistan, and 14 million (or 35% of the country) face hunger and an urgent need for food. And it was before the withdrawal of Allied troops and the collapse of the state.

The immediate collapse of the Afghan government has exposed its very fragile political, security and economic foundations. Afghanistan has long been one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world, receiving billions of dollars a year in civilian aid in recent years. The IMF and World Bank have already frozen their programs in Afghanistan and the US Treasury has frozen its dollar reserve, further accelerating the impending economic collapse.

In addition, a large portion of the Afghan population depends on subsistence agriculture, which is heavily affected by climate change in the form of drought and seasonal flooding. All of this creates the perfect storm for major travel outings that could linger for many years, if not generations. Recent reports indicate that around 20,000 Afghans have crossed the border into Pakistan and that people are also fleeing to Iran despite the barriers. The current population of more than 2.6 million Afghan refugees – the second largest group in the world – is expected to increase as displacement intensifies.

The symbolism of the Taliban victory on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary inspires other extremist groups around the world and in the region. The Taliban takeover is a blow to international counterterrorism efforts of the past two decades. How the Taliban respond to global terrorism and human rights issues will be critical in determining its relationship with the international community, including that of foreign aid to Afghanistan. The Taliban are in dire need of help, but face the reality of having to radically change the way they fundraise.

The security threats associated with the Taliban takeover and the re-emergence of global terrorism put many people, including minority groups such as the Hazara, Uzbeks and Turkmens (among others), at extreme risk of new trips. The ISIS-KP attack on Kabul airport that killed more than 100 people signals a new era of terrorism in Afghanistan.

The pressure on Afghans to engage in irregular migration after internal / inter-order displacement will be very strong, although the pressure on states will be to impede movement and stem flows, particularly by the traditional routes to Europe via Iran and Turkey.

With more than 132 million people worldwide in need of humanitarian assistance, humanitarian responses must become more efficient and effective to deliver aid to those who need it most.

Cash assistance has been recognized as a faster and more effective form of humanitarian aid than in-kind aid such as food, clothing or education. Cash transfers give more control to their recipients, allowing them to prioritize their own needs. They also have a proven track record in promoting entrepreneurship and stimulating local economies.

When the UN Secretary-General called for innovative ways to improve humanitarian cash assistance, the World Economic Forum responded by bringing together 18 organizations to create guidelines for public-private cooperation on transfers humanitarian aid in cash.

The guidelines are described in the Principles on Public-Private Cooperation in Humanitarian Payments and show how the public and private sectors can work together to deliver digital cash payments quickly and securely to populations affected by crisis. Since its publication in 2016, the report has served as a valuable resource for organizations, humanitarian agencies and government leaders seeking to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance and advance financial inclusion.

Learn more about this project and find out how you can join the Forum to get involved in initiatives that help millions of lives every day.

The gender implications run deep, as dangerous irregular migration is highly gendered, leaving women and girls behind, exacerbating vulnerabilities. Afghan girls and women are on the verge of losing most of the Taliban takeover, given the restrictions placed on their participation in society, including the right to education and work. These rights will be severely restricted, even in the best scenarios. The first signs of these limitations have already appeared with gender segregation in educational institutions and workplaces.

Massive movements of people from Afghanistan will come under increasing pressure as other nationalities seek to move with them along major corridors, potentially echoing the 2015 Syrian refugee movements from Turkey to and through the country. Europe. However, transition routes are heavily barricaded and deterrence regimes are in place in most destination countries. Afghans will find themselves stranded inside their country and in countries in transition like Iran and Turkey, exacerbating humanitarian and protection challenges in the region.

The ability of the international community to urgently facilitate large-scale programmatic solutions in the country to prevent a large-scale humanitarian disaster and mass displacement depends in part on ongoing negotiations with the Taliban. Those who have been evacuated in recent weeks have started arriving in the United States, Europe, Pakistan, Mexico and Uganda, but their overall numbers remain low and hopes for large-scale programmatic solutions are slim.

In the short term, the Taliban may have financial resources to protect itself from international sanctions. However, this will not extend to the Afghan people, who will be the ones to suffer the most and potentially for many years to come, especially if the Taliban isolate themselves in a pariah state.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not of the World Economic Forum or any of the organizations affiliated with the authors.


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