Afghanistan: The “World’s Least Peaceful Country”

Author: Ilaria Canali
Editor: MinhAnh Nguyen

Afghan refugees are one of the largest protracted refugee populations in the world.

More than forty years ago, Afghanistan entered a situation of instability that is still ongoing nowadays. Since then, more than 400,000 people escaped from the violence protracted by the Communist-led Taraki and Amin regime, crossing over into neighboring Pakistan and Iran. The numbers increased after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1979.

By the end of the ‘80s Pakistan hosted more than 4 million Afghan refugees, and after only five years that number increased by 1 million people hosted between Pakistan and Iran. Other than fleeing into neighboring countries, some of them successfully reached faraway lands such as the United States, and Europe, and were able to start the new life they longed for. Others, however, even if having reached a safe country to start a new life, were then forcibly returned to Afghanistan where they find themselves in a more dangerous situation than when they left. Afghan refugees today represent the highest number after the Syrians. 

In 2018, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded the highest number ever of civilian deaths, among which recorded also the highest number ever of killed children. The casualties were counted to be around 11,000, and the number of internally displaced people was more than 360,000 units.

A report published in June 2019 by the Institute for Peace and Economics defined Afghanistan as the “world’s least peaceful country,” taking the place of Syria. Amnesty International has called upon the international community to show less indifference towards Afghans seeking asylum in their host countries.

This criticism followed the decisions from countries in Europe, Iran, and Pakistan to repatriate a large number of Afghans when the conditions were far from safe. The UN special rapporteur on the human rights of IDP claimed that the returnees from Europe, Pakistan, and Iran only increased the situation of instability in Afghanistan. Furthermore, attention was brought to the cruel conditions that many were subjected to in offshore detention camps in the Australian islands of Manus and Nauru [1].

The five countries bordering Afghanistan, namely Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan, have closed their frontiers to refugees from Afghanistan until 2003, and eventually, countries like Pakistan or Iran reopened them. In the meantime, those reaching Europe have to face legal and bureaucratic challenges, as well as public and media hostility meant to exclude them from any integration possibility, while being stigmatized as refugees seeking economic advantages [2].

In terms of Japan’s role in Afghanistan, at the beginning of the 2000s, Japan provided 4.7 billion yen worth of emergency economic assistance to Pakistan, of which 1.7 billion yen has been earmarked for assistance to refugees in Pakistan. Of this 1.7 billion yen, 200 million yen has been dispersed as emergency grant aid through the offices of the UNHCR. In addition, refugee assistance amounting to approximately US$2 million dollars has been provided to Tajikistan [3]

Here is a brief explanation of the situation of Afghan refugees in their host countries of Pakistan, Iran, and the European Union.

AFGHANS in Pakistan [4]

As of January 2014, Pakistan hosted 1,615,876 refugees. In May 2012, the government of Pakistan together with Iran, Afghanistan, and the UNHCR adopted the SSAR (Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees). This new plan highlights the need for voluntary repatriation but at the same time, it also stresses the concept of international responsibility-sharing and assistance to refugee-affected and hosting areas (RAH).

In Pakistan, 36% of the Afghans live in refugee camps, and 63% in urban areas. While the number of registered refugees is 1.7 million, it is estimated that a further one million are still undocumented. Among the many Afghan ethnical groups, the most vulnerable are the Hazaras. They were the targets for persecution by the Taliban and the anti-Shia factions in Afghanistan. Above all other groups, voluntary repatriation can not be a solution for the Hazaras.

AFGHANS in Iran [5]

Iran hosted 840,158 Afghan refugees as of January 2014. While Pakistan is not a signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention regarding the Status of Refugee, Iran is a signatory state, and therefore it has to obey specific international rules. The main ethnicities on Iranian territories are the Hazaras and the Tajiks (over 70%). In Iran, most of the Afghan refugees reside in urban centers, and only 3 % live in rural settlements.

Integration of Afghan refugees into the local society is quite difficult, partially because of the unstable economic situation of Iran. Previously, during the decade 2002-12, the UNHCR assisted with the repatriation of 902,000 Afghans. The number of refugees willing to be repatriated increased sharply in 2011 because of the deteriorating situation in Iran.

To help with the resettlement of Afghans from Iran in 2011, the Refugee Contact Group on Iran was established. The group was first chaired by Sweden and included the UNHCR and resettlement countries such as Australia, Finland, and Germany. Brazil and Japan were observers. Other than resettlement, the group also offered humanitarian assistance to refugees in Iran, and a Health Insurance Scheme was also implemented in 2011.

AFGHANS in Europe [6]

For Afghan refugees, European countries such as Sweden, Finland, or Norway are the major countries for resettlement. However, this resettlement does not last forever, as some of them might have thought. The following case is about Taibeih Abbasi.

She was an Afghan student living in Norway for her whole life. Then, unexpectedly, she and her siblings were deported to Afghanistan, a country she has never known, or been to before. Her family fled Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet invasion. At first, they settled in Iran to move to Norway when they could start a new life, make friends, and dream of becoming a doctor.

This move by the Norway immigration authorities came as a shock for her whole community who started a campaign called #AbbasiStays.

“This is a principled fight. We are shedding light on Norway’s dysfunctional policies. We have supported Taibeih and her family throughout this ordeal, but there are so many other stories just like Taibeih’s that stay secret. The government’s actions are sad, frustrating and disappointing.”

The moment she arrived in Afghanistan she was immediately rejected by the Afghan authorities. She then came back to Norway and continued living her everyday life.

Her story is just one of many. It has been claimed that other countries such as Sweden, the UK, Germany, Austria, Finland, and Turkey have forcibly returned thousands of Afghans whose asylum requests have been rejected. This violates the principle of non-refoulement.

According to official EU statistics, the number of Afghans returned to their home country tripled in one year between 2015 and 2016, going from 3,290 to 9,460. The repatriation move mostly corresponds to a decrease in the number of accepted asylum applications, from 68% in 2015 to only 33% in 2016. Returnees included unaccompanied children, young adults, and other people who had never lived in Afghanistan before, and also those who once returned have been injured, committed suicide, or have been killed in bomb attacks. Despite being aware of the conditions in Afghanistan, the EU still signed the “Joint Way Forward” agreement to return Afghan asylum seekers.

Image: Photo by WantTo Create on Unsplash

Afghanistan: The “World’s Least Peaceful Country”
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