Where does the world stand on Afghan refugees?

Some countries have offered Afghans safe haven, but others are intent on fortifying borders.

The Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan has raised concerns in Western capitals and among rights organisations of recriminations and an erosion of freedoms in the country [Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters]

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is raising fears of a possible humanitarian crisis that could see huge numbers of people try to flee the country.

The group, which took control of Kabul on Sunday following a rapid nationwide offensive, has pledged not to seek retribution against officials who served in the now-deposed government headed by Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban has also promised to grant amnesty to ex-Afghan army soldiers, as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces with the US-led coalition that invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But there are concerns in Western capitals and among rights organisations that the Taliban’s resurgence could yet lead to recriminations, and several countries are organising evacuation flights for the Afghans who worked for their armies and institutions.

As some countries offer refuge, others have called for tougher borders.

Iran sets up emergency tents, but urges repatriation if and when safe

Efforts are under way in three provinces bordering Afghanistan to set up temporary accommodation for a potential influx of Afghan refugees.

Any Afghans who crossed into Iran would, “once conditions improve, be repatriated”, Hossein Ghassemi, interior ministry border affairs chief, told the IRNA news agency.

Iran shares a 900-kilometre (560-mile) border with Afghanistan, and already hosts nearly 3.5 million Afghans, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

Pakistan to keep refugees close to border

In June, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan would seal its border with Afghanistan in the event the Taliban took control.

Khan 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.

Border points appear to have remained open to Afghans for now, but Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Time magazine that Islamabad was preparing a “comprehensive strategy” to isolate refugees in temporary camps near the border – a move to prevent large numbers going further into Pakistan.

People arriving from Afghanistan cross the fence at the Friendship Gate crossing point, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan [Abdul Khaliq Achakzai/Reuters]

Turkey steps up border wall construction

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday that Ankara will work with Pakistan to help stabilise Afghanistan and prevent a new exodus of refugees from the country.

The arrival of Afghan migrants on Turkey’s eastern border has become a hot political topic in the country, with Erdoğan’s political opponents pressing his government to take strong measures to stop the influx.

The government has responded by stepping up the construction of a border wall with Iran in recent days.

United Kingdom to welcome 20,000 people over several years

The UK on Tuesday announced plans to 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.

This plan is separate from efforts to grant interpreters and other staff who worked with UK officials and forces in Afghanistan the right to live in the UK.

Canada to resettle 20,000, prioritising minorities including LGBTQ Afghans

Canada said last week that it would resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans.

“They will include women leaders, human-rights advocates, journalists, LGBTQ individuals, those who belong to persecuted religious groups, and families of interpreters already resettled in Canada,” The Globe and Mail reported.

Separately, a special immigration programme will offer sanctuary to thousands of Afghans who worked for Canadian officials and forces during their operations in Afghanistan, including interpreters, embassy workers and their families.

Australia says ‘no plans’ on Afghanistan refugees

Australia said on Wednesday it had no plans to allow in tens of thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban, citing security concerns.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia, which is notorious for its hardline offshore refugee policy, would instead provide Afghans with at least 3,000 visas over a year.

“I note that some are talking about figures of 20,000, but can I tell you there are no clear plans about that. Australia is not going into that territory,” Morrison told a news conference.

Evacuees from Afghanistan get off a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules after arriving at Australia’s main base in the Middle East region on Wednesday. Australia has said it will evacuate an undisclosed number of Afghans who worked for Australian soldiers and diplomats, but will not take in other Afghans [Australian Defence Force via AP Photo]

Switzerland refuses to accept large groups of Afghans

Switzerland said on Wednesday that it will not accept large groups of Afghan refugees arriving directly from the country, but instead will review asylum applications on a case-by-case basis.

Humanitarian visas will be considered for people facing an “immediate, concrete, serious and directly life-threatening threat”, the government said.

Applicants must also have a close and current connection to Switzerland, it added.

The government is working to evacuate 230 local aid agency workers and their families from Afghanistan and bring them to Switzerland, including about 40 local employees who worked for the Swiss Development Agency in Kabul and their relatives.

Austria refuses refugees, favours deportation centres

Austria said it is in favour of countering a possible influx of refugees with on-the-spot aid and deportation centres in the war-torn country’s neighbouring region.

“The goal must be to keep the majority of people in the region,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday.

In addition, the European Union must arm itself against what Nehammer sees as possible irregular immigration by making further efforts in external border protection.

The minister rejected further “burden” and explained that Austria was already home to the second-largest Afghan community in the EU, with 44,000 Afghans.

Austria under conservative Sebastian Kurz has a hardline stance on migration, at odds with the chancellor’s current coalition partner, the Greens.

United States focuses on evacuation efforts

The US has admitted Afghan refugees throughout its 20-year involvement in the country, although that number has dropped off significantly in recent years.

As of July 31, 2021, the US had only admitted 494 Afghan refugees for the fiscal year 2021, which ends September 30. A year earlier, 604 were resettled. By comparison, in 2016, during former President Barack Obama’s final complete fiscal year in office, the US admitted more than 2,700 Afghan refugees.

In early August, the US expanded its Afghan refugee criteria to include current and former employees of US-based media organisations, aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive US funding.

However, the US’s ability to quickly process visa and refugee applications remains in question.

Separately, the clock is ticking on evacuations. The US is planning to stick to a commitment for a complete troop withdrawal by August 31 and it remains unclear who will control the airport after their departure.

Prior to the Taliban advance, US officials said 15,000 Afghans had already relocated to the US under the Special Immigrant Visas programme. Some 18,000 more have applications pending.

US officials have said the evacuations will continue, and three military bases in the US are prepared to accommodate up to 22,000 evacuees. It has also outsourced some of its refugee operations to other countries.

Uganda to temporarily host 2,000 refugees, at US request

Uganda on Tuesday said it had agreed to a request from the United States to take in 2,000 refugees from Afghanistan for a period of three months, after which they will be resettled elsewhere.

It was unclear when they would start arriving in the East African nation, which has long experience welcoming people escaping conflict and currently hosts about 1.4 million refugees, most of whom originate from South Sudan.

North Macedonia to temporarily hosts 450 Afghans, at US request

North Macedonia’s government said on Tuesday that it will temporarily take in 450 Afghans in the coming days after it approved Washington’s request to admit them.

The refugees will be employees and families of Afghan staff “in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, activists from rights organisations, journalists, translators, students and scholarship holders,” the government said in a statement.

They are expected to arrive in the country “by the end of the week, depending on conditions at Kabul airport”, and will stay until documentation for US immigration visas is arranged.

Albania temporarily hosts 300 refugees, at US request

Albania’s government has also accepted Washington’s request to temporarily take in Afghan refugees seeking visas to enter the US.

Government sources told The Associated Press on Tuesday that about 300 Afghans were expected to arrive in the country within the next 24 hours.

They will reportedly be sheltered at student accommodation in the capital, Tirana, and some hotels in the nearby western port city of Durres.

An Afghan national at a gathering to urge the international community to help Afghan refugees, in New Delhi on August 18 [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

Kosovo to host refugees, at US request

Kosovo’s government also said on Sunday that it was ready to provide temporary shelter to refugees destined for the US.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that since mid-July, two teams from Kosovo and the US had been coordinating efforts to shelter Afghans deemed at risk, amid the resurgence of the Taliban.

He did not provide further details regarding the exact number of people, or where they will be housed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies