Is the world failing the Afghan migrants challenge?


 JAN 04, 2022 – 10:45 PM GMT+3A refugee from Afghanistan is evacuated by bus to a shelter after camping for months beneath a motorway, in Paris, France, Dec. 17, 2021. (Photo by Getty Images)

Following the fall of Kabul, the United Nations aid agencies, worldwide charities, Western diplomats and government officials became united to warn the world about an unfolding humanitarian crisis resulting from the Taliban returning to power.

South Asia is indeed heading toward a colossal humanitarian crisis especially emerging from the events in Afghanistan. Many experts believe that the coronavirus-hit economies will continue to face new challenges like refugee crises across the globe in 2022.

In an article for the Middle East Institute, researcher Roie Yellinek called it “the politics and the geopolitics of Afghan refugee crisis.” A number of Save the Children reports have revealed new challenges in freezing winters for refugees across the globe.

The question arises on how many Afghan children will be able to resist harsh weather conditions, insufficient food supplies and lack of medication. For many Afghans, like Africans and Central Americans, poverty, war and hunger have left little hope to survive in their own countries.

Not a single day passes that I don’t read or watch news reports of migrants’ voyages to Europe in search of a better life. A report by the Pledge Times quoted Save the Children, saying “more than 1,300 migrants died at sea in 2021,” whereas “28,600 migrants were saved by the Libyan Coast Guard.”

Western media narrative

Since the fall of Kabul, I have reviewed a series of articles in the global media featuring the struggle of ordinary Afghans in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Strange though, most sections of the Western media are full of glamorous stories that show images of Western cities and their residents holding placards with captions, “Welcome to Yorkshire” while at the same time, British Home Secretary Priti Patel, a daughter of migrant parents herself, has turned out to be extraordinarily tough both in her speeches and overall stance on migrants, nearly placing her in the racist category.

In contrast, I can count dozens of stories published in the mainstream Western media print, broadcast newspapers and television channels that blame neighboring Muslim countries for not doing enough to accommodate the Afghan refugees.

These news reports suggest a single theme that Europe is humanitarian and how ordinary Europeans are anxiously waiting for Afghan refugees in their cities to start new lives.

The reality, however, is quite grim because Europe’s treatment of refugees doesn’t equate with all those past and recent campaigns that portray Europe as a custodian of human rights, democracy and peace.

Most of the articles in the Western press on Afghan refugees show that the West is welcoming and accommodating to Afghan refugees, while it is the neighboring Muslim countries that are cold and unwelcoming to Afghans.

Look at The Washington Post headline: “As some countries welcome Afghan refugees, others are trying to keep them out.” Correspondingly, Foreign Policy wrote that “Afghan refugees get a cold welcome in Pakistan.” Whereas Iran is deporting, and Turkey is reluctant to take more Afghan refugees.

Even before the fall of Kabul in 2021, the coronavirus-hit economies in Turkey, Iran and Pakistan were hosting millions of Afghan refugees without mandatory support. Now that the international community has turned its back on the Afghan refugee crisis – what can they do?

The way to Europe

Two decades ago, I visited Istanbul to report on the 15th Turkish general elections held on Nov. 3, 2002, for Daily Pakistan. I managed to escape my busy reporting schedule to discover Istanbul’s history, culture and amazing evening life around the old city in the Sultanahmet district. One rainy and freezing night, I had met a local taxi driver and his Pakistani friend who showed me a small migrant camp full of South Asians ready to go to Europe.

A small room was packed with youngsters mainly from South Asia who were desperate to go to Western Europe through Greece. There, everyone had an emotional story to tell me, but everyone was fearful as they may not see daylight again due to potentially drowning at sea on their impending journey. Many had reached Istanbul through the Iranian mountain range called Chaand Tara in Urdu (which translates to “as high as the moon and stars” in English).

I broke down into tears after listening to their heartfelt stories of struggle, injustice and ill-treatment at home and en route to Europe to make it to a new homeland. I couldn’t turn away from the tales of the suffering of young people and wept after learning how many of them had to pay a huge price for this journey, leaving everything behind.

Unfortunately, like the arms trade, human trafficking is a profitable business that benefits many fat cows. It’s not a secret anymore, many in the streets of Pakistan’s Quetta city and Iran’s Zahedan know a way to Europe through Istanbul, be they Afghan refugees or poverty-hit jobless youngsters from Asia.

Why is the migrant crisis emerging around the globe? One after another humanitarian crisis has unfolded in recent years that disturbed bilateral relations between Europe and Turkey.

For the current Afghan refugees’ crisis, like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the reason is pretty simple as it has resulted from regional military conflicts. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that competition for regional hegemony between Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and some Middle Eastern countries have led to wars.

Two decades on, migration is still a challenge for Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Despite the best efforts by these countries’ governments, migration continues to affect diplomatic ties between Europe and Turkey.

At present, Turkey is hosting the world’s largest refugee population of around 4 million, while neighboring Pakistan is home to 3.5 million Afghans along with Iran that accommodates 780,000 Afghans. Besides, according to a BBC report, “an estimated 3.5 million Afghans are currently internationally displaced within the country.”

The real challenge ahead is how to avoid a mega-disaster resulting from a failing economy in Afghanistan that leaves no choice for Afghans other than to leave. If the world community is serious about resolving the refugee crisis, it should discourage and halt arms supplies to rebel groups, stop private military and affiliated groups such as Blackwater and warlords, and avoid interfering and intervening in other countries’ domestic politics. Imagine, a day when the world’s major powers stop imposing their style of democracy, controlling poor nations through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and avoiding taking natural resources through unfair means. We would have no humanitarian crisis, nor people leaving their motherland to become second and third-class citizens in faraway places.


Academic, analyst and activist based in the U.K., Ph.D. holder at the University of Huddersfield


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