KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Since President Biden’s commitment to withdraw U.S. forces, violence in Afghanistan has escalated. Consequently, many Afghans are attempting to leave the country as the potential for an Afghanistan humanitarian crisis increases. The surge in violence has already displaced 270,000 Afghans since the beginning of 2021. As the Taliban insurgency continues to sweep across the country, the number of Afghan migrants is bound to increase. Thus, the U.S. and the EU have expanded their efforts to support Afghan refugees.
Since May 2021, the Taliban has surged across the country, controlling 212 or half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers by July 2021. Before May, the group only controlled 73 of Afghanistan’s 419 districts. Moreover, the Taliban is closing in on 17 of the 34 Afghan provincial capitals, which are Afghanistan’s major population centers. The U.N. fears conflict in Afghanistan will displace 500,000 Afghans during 2021.
The conflict’s escalation has resulted in a 47% increase in civilian casualties from 2020. The 2021 Taliban offensive has been especially devastating for Afghan women and children who account for 46% of civilian casualties in 2021. Moreover, the U.S. National Intelligence Council warned that greater Taliban control in Afghanistan could set back advances the country has made in supporting women’s empowerment and education. Along with widespread violence, drought conditions in Afghanistan have subjected roughly 14 million Afghans to “high levels of acute food insecurity.” Altogether, the escalating conflict, deepening poverty and widespread food insecurity has caused the U.N Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to warn of a “looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.”
As an escalating number of Afghans flee their homes, the conflict threatens to surge emigration from Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan are the two major destinations for Afghan refugees as the two countries host 90% of registered Afghan refugees. However, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf states, “We are willing to help but we are in no position to take in new refugees.” Pakistan has been a destination for Afghan refugees “since the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan” and is home to nearly three million Afghan refugees. But, the UNHCR warned Pakistan would need the assistance of the international community if the country faces any additional Afghan refugee inflows.
Turkey is also an increasingly popular destination for Afghan migrants. While only 125,000 Afghan asylum seekers reside in Turkey, the Turkish authorities have caught more than 25,000 Afghan migrants entering the country via the Turkey-Iranian border since January 2021. The Turkish Serhat Association for Migration Research estimates that 500 to 1000 Afghan migrants enter Turkey each day.
The influx of Afghan refugees to Turkey threatens to strain a country already hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Consequently, Turkish politicians have called on the EU to increase its contributions to support Turkey’s migrant population. As Turkey is a major transit hub for refugees attempting to enter Europe, the European Union has a stake in ensuring Turkey can handle a large refugee population.
As the Afghanistan humanitarian crisis deepens, the EU has boosted its humanitarian aid funding to Afghanistan and for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran. The EU will provide €22 million (about $26 million) to humanitarian organizations in Pakistan and Iran to aid the two countries’ significant Afghan refugee populations. The aid package will combat COVID-19 among refugee populations while also expanding education and healthcare opportunities for Afghan refugees.
Additionally, the EU committed to increasing its 2021 humanitarian aid commitment to Afghanistan by €25 million ($29.7 million) on top of the EU’s previous €32 million ($38 million) aid pledge. The additional €25 million ($29.7 million) will focus on providing food and nutrition assistance to combat the hunger crisis across Afghanistan.
Lastly, the EU pledged €3 billion ($3.5 billion) to support refugee populations in Turkey. While the aid commitment intends to support socio-economic development among Turkey’s Syrian refugee community, the additional aid aims to limit the financial strain Turkey’s substantial refugee community has placed on the Turkish Government.
Along with the European Union, the United States has made significant pledges to assist Afghans displaced by the escalating violence in Afghanistan. Firstly, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is using $266 million to supply displaced Afghans with food, water, hygiene supplies, clothing and shelter. The U.S. State Department has committed $300 million to support “conflict resolution mechanisms” in Afghanistan, women’s empowerment and Afghan civil society. The State Department’s assistance plan also aims to improve the Afghan population’s access to essential services such as healthcare and education.
Additionally, on July 29, 2021, the U.S. House and Senate approved a bill providing the State Department and Department of Defense with more than $1 billion to relocate Afghans who assisted the United States during the war in Afghanistan and now potentially face Taliban retaliation. The bill provides the State Department with the funding to expand the processing of Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), which are visas available to former U.S.-employed Afghans.
Staffing and resource shortages at the State Department’s offices responsible for processing Afghan SIVs have meant that the average processing time for Afghans who submitted their applications in early 2021 is a little less than three years. The recent Congressional action builds on the U.S. Operation Allies Refuge, which is the U.S. evacuation of Afghans waiting for the results of SIV applications. While hunger and ongoing conflict threaten to cause an Afghanistan humanitarian crisis, together, the U.S. and EU assistance can support vulnerable Afghan populations in and outside of the country.
– Zachary Fesen