Parts of this article (those related to 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan) need to be updated. (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 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. Over 6 million Afghan refugees were residing in both Iran and Pakistan in the year 2000. Currently,[when?] they are the third largest group after Venezuelan and Syrian refugees. 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. 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. 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 , without needing to meet the requirements of . This allows them to travel with distinct United States passports. Australia provides a similar benefit to admitted refugees.
There are over one million internally displaced people in Afghanistan. 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. The Soviet invasion caused approximately 2 million Afghans to be internally displaced, mostly from rural areas into urban areas. 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. Afghanistan continues to suffer from insecurity and conflict, which has led to an increase in internal displacement.
Neighboring and regional countries
Native people from Afghanistan lawfully reside and work in about 92 countries around the world. About three in four Afghans have gone through internal and/or external displacement in their life. 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. All of their children automatically become Americans if they fulfill all of the requirements of , or . This extends their privileges, and gives all of them additional international protection against any unlawful threat or harm.
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). 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. Most were born and raised in Pakistan in the last four decades but are considered citizens of Afghanistan. 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. Members of the Taliban and their family reside among the Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Others such as the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their family members, who are awaiting to be firmly settled in the United States, 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.— 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. 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. Iran has long been used by Afghans to reach Turkey and then Europe where they apply for political asylum. 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. 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. In 2000, the Iranian government also initiated a joint repatriation program with the UNHCR. 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.
India hosts approximately 15,816 Afghan refugees within its borders. The majority of them reside in the nation's capital Delhi, specifically in the neighborhoods of Lajpat Nagar, Bhogal and Malviya Nagar. Some of them operate "shops, restaurants and pharmacies." Afghan refugees were admitted to India during and after the Soviet–Afghan War (1979-1989). A lot of the once-vibrant Sikhs in Afghanistan and Afghan Hindus have become refugees in India following the wars. Also much of Afghanistan's Christian community thrives within India. 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.
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.
In March 2003, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement, as an effort to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees. 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.
As shown in the chart below, Afghan refugees were admitted to other countries during the following periods:
- Soviet–Afghan War (1979–1989)
- Afghan Civil War (1992–96)
- Taliban Rule (1996–2001)
- War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)
|Country||Soviet–Afghan War (1979–89)||Civil War (1992–96)||Taliban Rule (1996–2001)||War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)|
|Tajikistan||1,161 ||15,336 ||5,573|||
Human rights abuses
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. Afghans living in Iran, for example, were deliberately restricted from attending public schools. 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.
Afghan refugees were regularly denied visas to travel between countries to visit their family members, faced long delays (usually a few years) 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. 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, and one Afghan refugee's online post of his food portion at Fort Bliss in 2021 drew some hateful responses. 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.
- United States of Al (TV show about Afghan refugee residing with an American family)
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- See generally 8 U.S.C. § 1427; 8 U.S.C. § 1436; 8 U.S.C. § 1452; 8 U.S.C. § 1503;
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While all citizens are nationals, not all nationals are citizens.
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According to the latest figures communicated by the Government in October 2020, on which consultations are ongoing, 800,000 refugees live in Iran, of which 780,000 are Afghans and 20,000 are Iraqis. Additionally, it is estimated that some 2 million undocumented Afghans and nearly 600,000 Afghan-passport holders live in Iran – it is expected that a significant number of those individuals continue to have international protection needs.
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refugees (country of origin): 2.1-2.25 million undocumented Afghans, 586,000 Afghan passport holders, 780,000 Afghan refugee card holders, 20,000 Iraqi refugee card holders (2020)
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