Doors slam shut for Afghan refugees

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Pakistan is turning them back. Thousands who spent their life savings on a bid to resettle in Europe are being told it’s time to head home. Inside Afghanistan, tens of thousands have become internally displaced in recent months as fighting between the Taliban and government security forces rages in several provinces. The refugee crisis could reach unprecedented numbers, with as many as 1.5 million returning home, many involuntarily, by the end of the year, according to humanitarian organizations.

Yet, there is no plan to adequately address this humanitarian emergency. Its scale and the international community’s dismissive attitude toward the plight of vulnerable Afghans is shameful. Pakistan, home to 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees and some 700,000 undocumented Afghans, has begun to crack down on those refugees living in the country without permission. By the end of this year, as many as 360,000 could be forced to return to Afghanistan, if current rates hold, according to the United Nations refugee agency. This year’s number of returnees is about four times higher than last year’s.

Among those caught in Pakistan’s toughening stance is Sharbat Gula, the subject of a famous photo that was published on a cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985. That photo was taken at a refugee camp in Pakistan when she was about 12. Ms. Gula, now in her 40s, was recently arrested and deported back to Afghanistan because she had been living in Pakistan without legitimate papers.

As Afghans become ever more hopeless about the future of their country, a rising number have set out on long and perilous journeys to Europe. Last year, 213,000 Afghans made it to Europe, where leaders have been grappling with the even larger influx of Syrians. While Syrians are not being forced to return home, European leaders last month struck a deal with the government of Afghanistan to establish a mechanism for the return of tens of thousands of Afghans who have failed to get asylum or legal residency in Europe. Under the deal, the Afghan government agreed to accept even citizens who fear for their safety if they were to return home.

Those who go back home, often having spent all their money on smugglers, face grinding poverty and violence. Within the country, about 221,000 Afghans fled their homes between January and August, according to the United Nations. For many, the only option is to pitch a tent in one of the country’s bulging and poorly serviced refugee camps.

The United Nations refugee agency has been making desperate pleas to donors for more assistance as winter approaches. Last month, it said it needed $181 million to cover basic operations in the months ahead. Fulfilling that need immediately is the least the international community can do. Beyond that, it will need to rethink its long-term approach to Afghan refugees and how to resettle more abroad in the years ahead. [Continue reading…]

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