For Afghan refugees such as me, we are now entering a perfect storm. Europe wants to make aid to our country contingent on its acceptance of at least who arrived on the continent last year. Simultaneously, Pakistan – the country that houses more expatriate Afghans than any other – plans to repatriate the 3 million Afghans who have sought refuge there since 1978. The former face reprisals from the extremists from whom they fled. The latter must head for a country where most of them have never even set foot.
All this will create or worsen three separate crises. The European asylum system might have to bend its own rules to send people back to a war zone, which would set a bad example to other countries – not least . It will also greatly affect refugees already in Europe – people in similar situations to me.
I am an Afghan refugee living in the UK. Thankfully I am now a legal resident here – but if I were sent back to Afghanistan, I would risk being killed by the militias that forced me to flee in the first place. And then there are the Afghans currently in Pakistan. Tens of thousands of these people are second- or third-generation immigrants who were born and raised in Pakistan. These refugees made Pakistan their home, started businesses, went to college. For most of them, is a foreign country.
It could also spark crisis in Afghanistan itself. The return of more than 3 million people would cause mayhem in an already fragile country. It would stretch limited resources, increase ethnic and religious tensions and exacerbate the violence that is already forcing many people from their homes. , over 50% of the country’s 384 districts face some threat of violence.
The return of millions more people can only make this situation worse – and cause yet another wave of refugees to flee their homes. In trying to contain one refugee crisis, and Pakistan are about to create another. There are no quick fixes, and it is foolish to think otherwise.
A bit of context: in historic terms, Afghanistan is the world’s top exporter of refugees. Together, the communist revolution in 1978 and the Soviet invasion in 1979 sent 5 million refugees to Pakistan and 3 million to Iran. More followed during the civil wars between the extremist factions who defeated the Soviets. Then more fled the Taliban. And while the western invasion in 2001 may have ousted the Taliban from power, the conflict – and the migration – continues to this day. The US and UK armies gave Afghans little reason to stay, and neither has the new Kabul government.
Many Afghans living in major cities would rather take a risky route to reach Europe than live with the economic uncertainty and the security threats. And if you live in a rural area – like nearly 70% of the Afghan population – you might prefer to leave than be recruited into the ranks of the Taliban, al-Qaida, or Islamic State.
Meanwhile, many believe the 2014 presidential election was rigged and that the government is incapable of responding to their basic needs. The rivalry between the president, Ashraf Ghani, and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, has made things harder – the two have been squabbling since beginning in November 2014. All the while, political polarisation is on the rise due to ethnocentric agendas within the Afghan government.
The west’s response has been to throw aid money at the government. The UK remains one of the largest aid donors, giving £178m per year. But this is wasted money. As David Cameron himself , the Kabul administration is “fantastically corrupt”. It so far has no proper strategy for re-assimilating such a large number of refugees, nor the funding to make it possible. This makes it very hard for any repatriation plan to be successful.
There is little hope that the government in Kabul can care for the existing residents of Afghanistan – let alone another 3 million with no shelter and food. The plan to return 80,000 Afghans from Europe – as well as millions from Pakistan – is dangerous and misguided.