Afghanistan: Which countries are taking in Afghan refugees?

The UN refugee agency has warned the ‘majority’ of Afghans will struggle to flee the country

Daniel Keane
Monday 23 August 2021 19:10
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<p>A young family who are among the first evacuees to arrive from Kabul at Frankfurt International Airport on Saturday </p>

A young family who are among the first evacuees to arrive from Kabul at Frankfurt International Airport on Saturday

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has seen tens of thousands of Afghans flee the country to escape the jihadists’ brutal rule.

More than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the militants took over on 15 August, as the United Nations Refugee Agency warned that the “vast majority” of Afghans have “no clear way out”.

According to the agency, more than 550,000 Afghans have been internally displaced since January. This is on top of some 3 million people that had been already uprooted by the start of the year.

Shabia Mantoo, spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has warned that Afghans who wish to flee the Taliban have “no clear way out” and the “vast majority” are unable to leave through the regular channels.

The UNCHR estimates that 90 per cent of the 2.6 million Afghan refugees outside of the country live in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.

But the Taliban has closed key checkpoints, and Pakistan has recently fortified its border with Afghanistan and Turkey.

By comparison, around 630,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in EU countries in the past 10 years, with the highest numbers in Germany, Hungary, Greece and Sweden, according to the EU statistics agency.

Which countries are accepting Afghan refugees?

The United Kingdom has pledged to take up to 20,000 Afghans over the next five years. Priority will be given to women, children and those facing persecution. However, just 5,000 are expected to be granted asylum in the next year, with campaigners warning that targets would need be increased to reflect the UK’s commitment to Afghans.

Canada has promised to resettle the same number, having already flown 175 vulnerable Afghans and 13 foreign nationals out of Kabul late last Thursday.

Meanwhile, the United States has authorised £364m from an emergency fund to meet “unexpected urgent” refugee needs, including for Afghan special immigration visa (SIV) applicants. President Joe Biden has not specified how many refugees the US will take.

US government documents obtained by Fox News reveal plans to relocate 30,000 Afghan refugees and visa applicants onto military bases across the country, including Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

Prior to resettling in the US, some of these refugees will be temporarily sheltered in Albania, Kosovo or northern Macedonia – the three Balkan countries in Europe which have pledged to welcome Afghans fleeing the Taliban, Politico reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her country will grant asylum to some 10,000 Afghans who have worked with the army, alongside human rights lawyers and activists.

Hungary has promised to help a “few dozen” families who have helped its armed forces but rejected any call to take a large number of refugees. “Let’s send assistance there, not bring trouble here,” president Viktor Orban told Kossuth Radio on Sunday.

Australia also intends to resettle some 3,000 refugees through an existing humanitarian programme this year. However, prime minister Scott Morrison said he would take a hardline stance on those who entered the country “illegally” and refugees could only arrive through “the official channels”.

“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,” he said.

Uganda has also agreed to take in 2,000 refugees. The East African country already has the largest number of refugees of any country in Africa.

Will Afghanistan’s neighbours take refugees?

Tajikistan has pledged to take in up to 100,000 refugees from its neighbouring country. Imomali Ibrohimzoda, deputy head of Tajikistan’s emergencies committee, said the former Soviet republic was already building two large warehouses to store supplies for refugees in the Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan provinces adjacent to the border.

Neighbouring Iran, which already hosts 780,000 registered Afghan refugees, has set up emergency tents for refugees in three of its provinces. Hossein Ghassemi, interior ministry border affairs chief, said last week that anyone crossing into the country would “once conditions improve, be repatriated”.

Turkey’s president Erdogan said on Sunday that his government would work with Pakistan to prevent an exodus of refugees from Afghanistan. In recent days, officials stepped up the construction of a border wall with Iran.

Pakistan, which hosts an estimated 3 million Afghan refugees, has fortified its border after prime minister Imran Khan promised to seal it in June if the Taliban took control.

Which countries will not accept Afghan refugees?

Austria has refused to take any Afghan refugees. In an interview published on Sunday, chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he was “clearly against the fact that we now voluntarily accept more people”.

Instead of accepting refugees, he said “we must do everything in our power” to improve the situation in Afghanistan.

French president Emmanuel Macron has said the country will help some Afghans to resettle – including human rights lawyers, journalists and activists – but is yet to give a number.

Last week, Mr Macron was accused of pandering to the far-right after saying France needed a plan to “anticipate and protect itself from a wave of migrants” from Afghanistan. He said that “Europe alone cannot assume the consequences of the current situation”.

Switzerland has also said it will not accept large groups of refugees arriving directly from Afghanistan.

Russia has said it will not accept any Afghan refugees, with president Vladimir Putin claiming he doesn’t want to deal with “militants” masquerading as asylum seekers.

Since the Taliban’s takeover, the Kremlin has praised the group for “restoring order” to Afghanistan. Russian officials have not joined in the evacuation effort at Kabul airport.

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