31st October 2021
When the Taliban came back to power after nearly two decades of its ouster, the people of Afghanistan knew that their lives, yet again were at risk. The group is notorious for its brutal ways of governance, with an extremely regressive regime that led to countless deaths and innumerable human rights violations. As and when Ashraf Ghani, the president of the country, fled the capital, the Taliban officially ceased control of the state. This led to widespread panic across the world, as videos and pictures of Afghans desperately trying to flee their country were circulated all across social media. As fear and panic grew; the primary question on everyone’s minds was- What happens to the people of Afghanistan?
For more than 40 years, millions of Afghan civilians have been displaced from their homes, forced to flee amongst the war and chaos that was ensuing in their nation. This has led to a refugee crisis, which has now only gotten worse after the Taliban rule. The Afghan refugees make up one of the largest protracted refugee situations in the world. A protracted refugee situation refers to a case where more than 25,000 citizens of the country have been exiled. This means they are not safe living in their own homeland but also do not have permission to attain permanent citizenship to shift to another country. They are forced to keep moving from place to place and often land up in refugee camps, where generations of families are brought up. There are nearly 6 million Afghans who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Of those, 3.5 million are displaced within Afghanistan itself and the rest 2.6 million are Afghan refugees living in other countries. It was reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNFCR) that at the end of 2020, there more than 3 million internally displaced people (IDP), and the number of IDP individuals growing to 635,000 following the recent Taliban takeover. The UN estimates that by the end of the year, nearly half a million citizens will have fled the country and asked for neighboring countries to keep their borders open.
A few western countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom have agreed upon taking a certain number of refugees, whereas as other European countries such as Austria and Switzerland stand strong on their stance with their hardline anti-immigration policies. The United States do not have a clear-cut policy just yet but have accepted a number of Afghan individuals who worked in US based companies and NGOs.
Pakistan and Iran have been two countries that have hosted the largest number of Afghan refugees over the past 20 years, but the refugees are often subjected to poor conditions and forceful returns back to their country. In the present political climate, the two countries are now wary to accept more Afghan refugees due to socio-economic problems that each respective country faces. The EU, despite its strong stance on anti-immigration, plans to donate 600,000 € as reparation to be used by the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to financially support the nations with the influx of Afghan immigrants.
India has so far maintained a neutral stance on the matter. Unlike other countries such as the United States, India does not have any stated policies regarding refugees. India has always functioned on an ad-hoc basis when it comes to refugees who seek asylum from neighboring counties torn by war and crises but the current dynamics in India’s approach to refugees has been subjected to some critcism. When the Taliban cemented its power, the Indian government decided to make all physical visas that have been issued as null and void. Instead, a system of e-visas was introduced to be a quick and easy way for the refugees to leave but reports have stated that the e-visas have only complicated the matter further. Though thousands have already applied, they have remained waiting for weeks for the process to go through and sources claim that very few have actually received this emergency e-visa.
The refugee policy as it stands now promised to ensure the evacuation of religious minorities such as the Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan, and also those Afghan nationals whose lives are in imminent danger and are at danger of facing further violence. The guidelines issued so far are rather blurry, as there is no fixed quota on the number of refugees nor is there any clear-cut policy that has been put into place. After the Taliban takeover, it is said that India has taken in only around 100 refugees from the country, a mere speck in the 635,000 seeking international aid. Such an approach could be attributed to the country’s own socio-economic struggles in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the question of humanity is to be thought of. India has always welcomed refugees since its existence as an independent country. Though it might not be a wise idea to recognize the Taliban government in haste, it is also important to take on a humanitarian approach and help those who are in dire need. India should engage with the Afghan citizens who seek help and extend a helping hand, keeping up the democratic ideals of the country in terms of international human rights and humanitarian laws. As a nation, India should be more accepting and work to provide long-term protection to the Afghan refugees.
Afghanistan occupies a central position in the South Asian region, and supporting them would not only benefit them but also help in the prosperity of the region in a medium- and long-term basis. A collapse of Afghanistan could have a detrimental impact on the Indo-Pacific region, and it is important for each country, not only India, to take a humanitarian approach to help those who seek asylum. The goal should be to help settle the refugees with grants of citizenship and residence in order for them to increase their economic status, which will in turn have a positive effect on the entire region.
*The Author is a Research Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies
Disclaimer: The Views in the article are of the Author