Tens of Thousands of Afghan Women Refugees Risk Being Returned to Acute Danger

A collection of tents and tarps provides shelter for a large number of Afghan refugee families. It is located on a barren stretch of land close to the National Press Club in Islamabad (Pakistan). Afghans who have gathered here claim that they have waited for months to register as refugees and receive humanitarian parole or asylum in another country. Islamabad’s winter temperatures sink to the upper 30s (Fahrenheit). The temperatures rose to 110 degrees during my June visit.

In the middle of the encampment, a white sheet suspended between stakes features a painting of a disembodied hand reaching up from a pool of blood above the words “Save Us! If not, Kill Us!” Given the United States-led coalition’s many incidentsUnaccountable violence against Afghan civilians, you’d be forgiven for thinking the slogan was a summation of the U.S.’s 20-year Afghan war effort, rather than an expression of the refugees’ desperation.

The encampment serves two purposes: it is a protest and a survival strategy. It is for refugees who are not authorized to work and have no other options. Zohra Akhtari is an Afghan women’s activist who lives in the camp. She lives on food donated and skips meals so her five children can eat. She is one among many Afghan refugees who fears they might be forced to return to Afghanistan and fall into the hands Taliban or another terrorist group. armed groupsThese are attacking civilians.

Pakistan does not recognizeAfghans are refugees. It issues temporary visas which require Afghans obtain new entry and exit stamps each couple of months. As other countries have not been keen to grant visas to Afghan refugees they have made it so that those still in Pakistan can legally only obtain new entry stamps by crossing into Afghanistan.

A sign at a makeshift Afghan refugee camp in Islamabad, Pakistan, reads 'Save Us! If not, kill us!'
A sign at a makeshift Afghan refugee camp in Islamabad, Pakistan, reads “Save us! If not, kill us!”

Farah’s* story illustrates the danger this poses. In late 2021, she fled Afghanistan for Pakistan, leaving behind her abusive family. She needed to renew her entry and exit stamps in the spring. This meant going back to Afghanistan, where the Taliban was demonstrating its new “moderate” worldview by shutting downDomestic violence shelters and sends survivors to their abusers.

Dina*, an Afghan woman activist who fled to Pakistan in late 2021, has managed to stay in touch with Farah since then. Farah had asked Dina to accompany her to the border to get the stamps, but “due to security issues for myself, I could not go.” Dina shared what happened next. Farah was given her exit stamp on the Pakistani side of the border crossing. Taliban border guards questioned Farah about why she was traveling to Afghanistan with no visa. mahrama male guardian. They beat her and kept her locked up for days, until she agreed to follow their lead. mahram rule. They sent her back home to her family. She is now in Afghanistan, with her abusers. “I really want to help her,” Dina said.

Afghan refugees Zohra Akhtari, left, and her eldest daughter, in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Zohra Akhtari, a Afghan refugee, and her eldest son, are pictured left, in Islamabad (Pakistan).

According to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, authorities that turn domestic violence victims over to their abusers are accountable for the abusers’ violence under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

We can assume that the Taliban does not care about this finer point concerning their international legal responsibility. But it would help Afghan women refugees if other countries’ migration policies didn’t put them at risk of returning to violence. As Farah’s story illustrates, policies like Pakistan’s entry-stamp requirements can facilitate torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Pakistan should sign the UN Refugee Convention and Iran should stop its ramped up. deportations of Afghans, Afghanistan’s direct neighbors are not the only countries that place refugees in danger. Although the conditions for Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran are not ideal, the two countries have been home to the majority of Afghan refugees over four decades. Pakistan has consistently been the largest or closest to the largest host of refugees around the world. It was home to approximately 3 millionAfghans before 2021.

Imran Khan, then-Prime Minster, proposed in 2018 to grant citizenship to hundreds of thousands of them. But the idea was rejected. diedunder the influence of political and military opposition. Sixty-two per cent of Afghans are so. fledNearly 38% of the 2021 revenue went to Iran and Pakistan from neighboring countries. Both IranAnd Pakistan face soaring poverty rates and economic crises worsened by the pandemic, and in Iran’s case, by sanctions.

Meanwhile, wealthy governments — including those like the U.S., which instrumentalized Afghan women and girls’ rights to justify invading, bombing and occupying Afghanistan for two decades — have failed to ensure a fully functioning global protection system for Afghan refugees. These governments’ refusal to quickly open their doors to larger numbers of Afghans is leaving women, girls and other persecuted people at risk of being turned over to those they are fleeing. There are still many Afghan women, girls, and human rights defenders who have been victims of gender violence and are waiting for the chance to be resettled elsewhere in the face great danger and threats.

Protest banners and communal space at an Afghan refugee encampment in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Protest banners and communal space at an Afghan refugee camp in Islamabad (Pakistan)

The U.S. had an estimated population of approximately 1.2 million as of February 20, 2022. resettledAround 65,000 Afghans were evacuated during the military withdrawal. However, it was slow to act prior to August 2021 and is now moving at an almost glacial pace. Despite this, callsThe U.S. was the only country that could speed up the process, in light of the imminent Taliban takeover. resettled85 Afghan refugees between January and August last year. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has been established. yet to resolveMost of the more than 46,000 Afghan humanitarian parole applications it received since last summer were rejected. Currently, its website says that it is “receiving an extremely high number of requests for parole” and that processing times, normally 90 days, “may take several months.”

This will not be possible for the tens or thousands of Afghans who have expired visas in Pakistan. It remains to see if Congress will allocate the same resources for expedited humanitarian parole processing. approvesPentagon spending of $838.8billion ($37billion more than the military requested). Also in question is the U.S.’s willingness to approve the Afghan humanitarian parole cases it Does process.

USCIS rejectedMore than 93 percent of the 4,543 cases it processed by June 1st this year was handled by USCIS. According to an American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts lawsuit, USCIS began processing cases in 1996. imposingLast year, Afghan applicants were subject to stricter standards. It also relaxed requirements and waived fees under a humanitarian pardon process, which was specifically designed for Ukrainians. After criticism, the Biden administration was removed. releasedIn June, USCIS issued new internal guidance to its adjudicators. The guidance expands possible forms of evidence to sustain a humanitarian parole case, and widens eligibility to include those from a “targeted group,” members of which face threats of “serious harm.” According to immigration attorneys, whether this will improve acceptance rates for Afghans will depend on how USCIS’s adjudicators enforce the new guidance. Applicants will need to overcome apparent agency bias. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security justifies high rejection rates by claiming that Afghans seek permanent resettlement, while Ukrainians want temporary safe haven.

The European Union has not been much better at responding humanely. In August 2021, the Austrian interior minister, perhaps not having had a chance to read the news, said he couldn’t imagine a “reason why an Afghan should now come to Austria.” Other EU leaders expressed similar views. Some acknowledged that there was a moral obligation for the EU to aid Afghan refugees. coalescedA plan similar to the U.S.’s is being developed that would largely keep Afghan refugees in transit countries like Turkey Iran and Pakistan. Supposedly this would involve providing those countries enough resources to host the refugees — something that never happened in four decadesAfghan refugee crisis.

Tents shelter Afghan refugees beneath a bulletin board in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Tents shelter Afghan refugees below a bulletin board at Islamabad, Pakistan.

Likely conscious that persistent underfunding is the mainstay of humanitarian appeals globally, the neighboring countries’ leaders expressedThere was strong opposition to the idea. No one listened and the outflow of Afghan refugees predicted landed largely at their borders. Only a few Afghan refugees were able to make it out on the rare occasions. charter flightMany are still in precarious situations despite the EU being a great example. Many face the prospect of being returned to danger — not to mention to a country where almost half the population faces acute hunger.

If the plan was to improve Afghanistan’s economy enough to encourage return of those for whom poverty may be a main push factor, the U.S.’s freezing of the Afghan Central Bank’s currency reserves and seizure of half for 9/11 victims has not helped. According to UN independent experts, “overly broad” U.S. sanctions compliance rules are exacerbating “the climate of uncertainty among … banks, businesses and humanitarian donors … preventing people of Afghanistan from any access to basic humanitarian goods.” While aid alone can’t solve these crises, it is still critically needed. The overall Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan of $4.44 Billion was as of June 2022. 32 percent funded. In Pakistan, where most Afghan refugees have fled, the UN Refugee Agency’s operations appeal was still 26 percent unfundedAs of July

Back at the encampment in Islamabad, women’s activist Akhtari described her organizing and the reasons she fled to Pakistan. She began using her house as a classroom to teach math and reading to Afghan girls at the age of 15. Her family had just returned from exile in Afghanistan following the 2001 U.S. Invasion. Later on, she created women’s economic empowerment projects and advocated for women’s rights. For her work, she was frequently threatened by Taliban members. Things got worse in 2021.

In the lead up to their takeover in August 2021, Taliban members killed Akhtari’s brother. Her mother died in ISIS-K’s suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that month. She and her daughter endured beatings as they participated in women’s demonstrations that September against Taliban policies. Other women protestors were detained, and even killed. When Taliban fighters came to her neighbor’s house looking for her, she knew she and her family had to flee. She has been living in the camp for several months, with no income opportunities. She hopes for permanent resettlement so her family can rebuild their lives.

“I ask of the world, and of every women’s human rights activist, please don’t forget us. Please help us,” she told Truthout.

* Name has been changed for safety.

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