Afghan refugees

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Afghan evacuees boarding American aircraft during Operation Allies Refuge in August 2021

Afghan refugees are citizens of Afghanistan who were compelled to abandon their country as a result of major wars, persecution, torture and genocide. The 1978 Saur Revolution followed by the 1979 Soviet invasion marked the first wave of internal displacement and international migration from Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Smaller numbers went to India[1] or north to reside in various cities across the then Soviet Union. When the Soviet forces left Afghanistan in February 1989, many refugees returned to their homeland. They again migrated to neighboring countries during and after the Afghan Civil War (1992–1996).

Afghanistan became one of the largest refugee-producing countries in the world.[2] Over 6 million Afghan refugees were residing in both Iran and Pakistan in the year 2000.[3] Currently,[when?] they are the third largest group after Venezuelan and Syrian refugees.[4] Some countries that were part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) established special programs to allow thousands of Afghans to resettle in North America or Europe.[5][6][7][8][9] As stateless refugees or asylum seekers, they are protected by the well-established non-refoulement principle and the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

They receive the maximum government benefits and protections in countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[10][11] For example, those that receive green cards under 8 U.S.C. § 1159 can immediately become "non-citizen nationals of the United States" pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1452(b), without needing to meet the requirements of 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a).[12] This allows them to travel with distinct United States passports.[13] Australia provides a similar benefit to admitted refugees.

Internal displacement[edit]

There are over one million internally displaced people in Afghanistan.[14] Most Afghans experience displacement as a result of military actions and violence by the warring factions, although there are also reasons of major natural disasters.[15] The Soviet invasion caused approximately 2 million Afghans to be internally displaced, mostly from rural areas into urban areas.[15] The Afghan Civil War (1992–1996) caused a new wave of internal displacement, with many citizens moving to northern areas in order to avoid the Taliban totalitarianism.[15] Afghanistan continues to suffer from insecurity and conflict, which has led to an increase in internal displacement.[16][17][18]

Neighboring and regional countries[edit]

Native people from Afghanistan lawfully reside and work in about 92 countries around the world.[19][20] About three in four Afghans have gone through internal and/or external displacement in their life.[15] Unlike in certain other countries, all admitted refugees and those granted asylum in the United States are statutorily eligible for permanent residency (green card) and then U.S. nationality or U.S. citizenship.[12] All of their children automatically become Americans if they fulfill all of the requirements of 8 U.S.C. § 1408(4), 8 U.S.C. § 1431(a) or 8 U.S.C. § 1433(a).[21] This extends their privileges, and gives all of them additional international protection against any unlawful threat or harm.[22]


Map of Afghanistan and Pakistan
The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the Durand Line. Most Afghan refugees in Pakistan reside in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, not very far from the Durand Line.

Approximately 1,438,432 registered Afghan refugees and asylum seekers temporarily reside in Pakistan under the care and protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).[19][23][24][25][26][27][28][29] Of these, 58.1% reside and work in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 22.8% in Balochistan, 11.7% in Punjab, 4.6% in Sindh, 2.4% in the capital Islamabad and 0.3% in Azad Kashmir.[25][27] Most were born and raised in Pakistan in the last four decades but are considered citizens of Afghanistan.[30] They are free to return to Afghanistan under a voluntary repatriation program or move to any other country of the world and be firmly resettled there.

Since 2002, around 4.4 million Afghan citizens have been repatriated through the UNHCR from Pakistan to Afghanistan.[25][31] Members of the Taliban and their family reside among the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.[32][33][34][35][36] Others such as the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their family members, who are awaiting to be firmly settled in the United States,[5][6][8][9] are also residing in Pakistan. Regarding the Taliban, Prime Minister of Pakistan stated the following:

What the Taliban are doing or are not doing has nothing to do with us. We are neither responsible, nor the spokesperson for the Taliban.[37]

— Imran Khan, July 2021


As of October 2020, there are 780,000 registered Afghan refugees and asylum seekers temporarily residing in Iran under the care and protection of the UNHCR.[19][23][38][39] The majority of them were born in Iran during the last four decades but are still considered citizens of Afghanistan. According to Iranian officials, 2 million citizens of Afghanistan who have no legal documents and over half a million Iranian visa holders also reside in various parts of the country.[38][39] Iran has long been used by Afghans to reach Turkey and then Europe where they apply for political asylum.[40][41][42] As in Pakistan, the Afghan refugees are not firmly settled but reside there on a temporary basis.

Iran's initial response towards Afghan refugees, driven by religious solidarity, was an open door policy where Afghans in Iran had freedom of movement to travel or work in any city in addition to subsidies for propane, gasoline, certain food items and even health coverage.[43][44] In the early 2000s, Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA) initiated registration of all foreigners, including refugees. It began issuing temporary residence cards to certain Afghans.[45] In 2000, the Iranian government also initiated a joint repatriation program with the UNHCR.[45] Laws were passed in order to encourage the repatriation of Afghan refugees, such as limits on employment, areas of residence, and access to services including education.[45]


India hosts approximately 15,816 Afghan refugees within its borders.[23][46][47] The majority of them reside in the nation's capital Delhi, specifically in the neighborhoods of Lajpat Nagar, Bhogal and Malviya Nagar.[46] Some of them operate "shops, restaurants and pharmacies."[46] Afghan refugees were admitted to India during and after the Soviet–Afghan War (1979-1989).[48] A lot of the once-vibrant Sikhs in Afghanistan and Afghan Hindus have become refugees in India following the wars.[49] Also much of Afghanistan's Christian community thrives within India.[50] In 2021, following the end of the latest war in Afghanistan, India has offered an emergency visa (the 'e-Emergency X-Misc Visa') to some citizens of Afghanistan.[51][52][48]


International aid[edit]

Due to the ongoing conflict, insecurity, unemployment, and poverty in Afghanistan, the Afghan government had difficulty coping with its internally displaced population in addition to the influx of returnees in a short period of time. In order to meet the needs of returning refugees, the UN has appealed to the international community for $240 million in humanitarian assistance.[14]

In March 2003, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement, as an effort to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees.[53] In 2015, the high level segment of the UNHCR's 66th Executive Committee meeting concentrated on Afghan refugees. This was an effort to bring international attention and promote sustainable solutions for the Afghan refugee situation.[20]


As shown in the chart below, Afghan refugees were admitted to other countries during the following periods:

Country Soviet–Afghan War (1979–89) Civil War (1992–96) Taliban Rule (1996–2001) War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)
Pakistan 3,100,000 [54] 1,438,432 [19][23][25][24][27]
Iran 3,100,000 [54] 780,000 [19][23][38]
Germany 147,994 [19]
Turkey 129,323 [23]
Austria 40,096 [19][55]
France 31,546 [19]
Sweden 29,927 [19]
Greece 21,456 [19]
India 60,000[56] 15,806 [23][57]
United States 15,490 [58][59]
Switzerland 14,523 [19]
Italy 12,096 [19]
Australia 10,659 [19]
United Kingdom 9,351 [19]
Indonesia 7,629 [23][60][19]
Tajikistan 1,161 [61] 15,336 [61] 5,573 [19]
Netherlands 5,212 [19]
Belgium 4,689 [19]
Norway 4,007 [19]
Finland 3,331 [19]
Malaysia 2,661 [23][19]
Romania 2,384 [62]
Canada 2,261 [19]
Denmark 2,134 [19]

Human rights abuses[edit]

Human rights abuses against admitted Afghan refugees and asylum seekers have been documented widely. This include mistreatment, persecution or torture in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Germany, the United States and in several other NATO-members states.[63][64][65][66][67][11] Afghans living in Iran, for example, were deliberately restricted from attending public schools.[68][69][70] As the price of citizenship for their family members, Afghan children as young as 14 were recruited to fight in Iraq and Syria for a six-month tour.[71]

Afghan refugees were regularly denied visas to travel between countries to visit their family members, faced long delays (usually a few years)[72] in processing of their visa applications to visit family members for purposes such as weddings, gravely ill family member, burial ceremonies, and university graduation ceremonies; potentially violating rights including free movement, right to family life and the right to an effective remedy.[73][74][75] Racism, low wage jobs including below minimum wage jobs, lower than inflation rate salary increases, were commonly practiced in Europe and elsewhere. Unsanitary conditions have been reported at US air bases,[76][77] and one Afghan refugee's online post of his food portion at Fort Bliss in 2021 drew some hateful responses.[78][79] Many Afghan refugees were not permitted to visit their family members for a decade or two. Studies have shown abnormally high mental health issues and suicide rates among Afghan refugees and their children.[80][81][82][83][84][85]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Amstutz, J. Bruce (1994). Afghanistan: The First Five Years of Soviet Occupation. Diane Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7881-1111-2. OCLC 948347893.
  2. ^ "More than seven million refugees displaced in 2012". BBC News. June 19, 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  3. ^ "USCR Country Report Afghanistan: Statistics on refugees and other uprooted people". ReliefWeb. June 19, 2001. Retrieved 2021-08-01.
  4. ^ "Figures at a Glance". UNHCR. June 18, 2021. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  5. ^ a b "US Expands Eligibility for Afghan Refugee Resettlement". Voice of America. August 2, 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-03.
  6. ^ a b "US Announces New Refugee Program for Afghans". TOLOnews. August 2, 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-02.
  7. ^ "Afghan who aided U.S. arrive at Virginia base, but many others remain in peril". Los Angeles Times. July 30, 2021. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  8. ^ a b "Joe Biden approves $300 million for Afghan refugees". Khaama Press. July 24, 2021. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  9. ^ a b "House votes to expand and speed up visa process for Afghans who helped the U.S. during war". CNBC. July 22, 2021. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  10. ^ See generally
  11. ^ a b "Mashiri v. Ashcroft, 383 F.3d 1112". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Harvard Law School. November 2, 2004. pp. 1115–19. Retrieved 2021-08-01.
  12. ^ a b See generally 8 U.S.C. § 1427; 8 U.S.C. § 1436; 8 U.S.C. § 1452; 8 U.S.C. § 1503;
  13. ^ 22 U.S.C. § 212 ("Persons entitled to passport")
  14. ^ a b "Return of Afghan Refugees to Afghanistan Surges as Country Copes to Rebuild". January 26, 2017. Retrieved 2017-02-21.
  15. ^ a b c d Schmeidl, Susanne (2014). "Sources of Tension in Afghanistan and Pakistan: A Regional Perspective" (PDF). CIDOB Policy Research Project.
  16. ^ "Afghanistan: 270,000 newly displaced this year, warns UNHCR". UN News. July 13, 2021. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  17. ^ "Millions of Afghans Displaced After More Than Four Decades of War". Voice of America. December 14, 2019. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "How the US and the UK accept far fewer Afghan refugees than other countries". New Statesman. August 19, 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  20. ^ a b "High-Level Segment of the 66th session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme on the Afghan refugee situation". UNHCR. October 6, 2015. Retrieved 2017-04-03.
  21. ^ See, e.g., generally
    • "Fernandez v. Keisler, 502 F.3d 337". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Harvard Law School. September 26, 2007. pp. 349–50.
    • "Gomez-Diaz v. Ashcroft, 324 F.3d 913". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Harvard Law School. April 7, 2003. p. 915. Retrieved 2021-08-02. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000, Pub.L. No. 106-395, 114 Stat. 1631, revised the manner in which children of non-citizens born outside the United States are eligible to become U.S. citizens.
    • "Belleri v. United States, 712 F.3d 543". U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Harvard Law School. March 14, 2013. p. 545. Retrieved 2021-08-02. A child acquires derivative citizenship by operation of law, not by adjudication.
    • "In re Fuentes-Martinez, 21 I&N Dec. 893" (PDF). Board of Immigration Appeals. U.S. Dept. of Justice. April 25, 1997. p. 896 n.4. Retrieved 2021-08-02. A person who claims to have derived United States citizenship by naturalization of a parent may apply to the Attorney General for a certificate, but a certificate is not required.
    • "Robertson-Dewar v. Mukasey, 599 F. Supp. 2d 772". U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Harvard Law School. February 25, 2009. p. 779 n.3. Retrieved 2021-08-02. The Immigration and Nationality Act defines naturalization as 'conferring of nationality of a state upon a person after birth, by any means whatsoever.'
    • "Petition for Naturalization of Tubig ex rel. Tubig, 559 F. Supp. 2". U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Harvard Law School. October 7, 1981. p. 3. Retrieved 2021-08-02. A person naturalized under § 1433(a) need not meet many of the requirements for naturalization—such as language, residence, and physical presence requirements—imposed upon those who seek naturalization under other provisions.... Thus, qualifying for naturalization under § 1433(a) can be of substantial importance to applicants for naturalization.
  22. ^ See, e.g., generally 18 U.S.C. § 249; 18 U.S.C. § 876; 18 U.S.C. § 1958; 18 U.S.C. § 2332; 18 U.S.C. § 2441; "United States v. Morin, 80 F.3d 124". U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Harvard Law School. April 5, 1996. p. 126. Retrieved 2021-08-02.
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  28. ^ "Government delivered first new Proof of Registration smartcards to Afghan refugees". ReliefWeb. February 17, 2020. Retrieved 2021-08-03. The Proof of Registration (PoR) card is an important protection tool that is issued by Government of Pakistan and provides temporary legal stay and freedom of movement for the 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
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External links[edit]