International Migrant’s Day, the Solidarity Day for Migrants and Afghan Refugees

Introduction
1. Definition of Migration

1.1 The Movement of People: Migration, in its simplest form, refers to the movement of people from one place to another. Intending to settle, either permanently or temporarily. This movement can occur across vast distances, spanning international borders, or within the borders of a single nation. While often associated with crossing borders, internal migration within countries is more common globally, as Afghan refugees do.

1.2 Diverse Motives: The reasons driving migration are as diverse as the individuals undertaking it. Some seek economic opportunities, escape poverty, or pursue better livelihoods. Others flee conflict, persecution, or natural disasters. Environmental factors like resource scarcity or climate change can also play a role. Moreover, Personal motivations like family reunification or cultural exchange also contribute to migration flows.

1.3 A Complex Phenomenon: Understanding migration requires acknowledging its complex nature. It’s not just about numbers and statistics; it’s about the human stories behind each journey. Migration shapes sending and receiving communities’ demographics, economies, and cultures, making it a complex phenomenon with far-reaching consequences.

2. Causes of Migration

2.1 Push and Pull Factors: The decision to migrate is often influenced by a mixture of factors. Often categorized as “push” and “pull.” Push factors drive people away from their place of origin, such as poverty, unemployment, political instability, violence, or environmental degradation. On the other hand, pull factors are the attractions that draw people to a new location, such as economic opportunities, better healthcare, education, or political stability.

2.2 Complex Relationship: The relationship of these factors can be multifaceted and vary greatly depending on the specific context. For example, someone fleeing conflict might be pushed by the violence in their home country and pulled by the promise of safety and security in another. Additionally, circumstances and ambitions are crucial in shaping how individuals respond to push and pull factors.

2.3 Beyond the Individual: It’s important to recognize that migration is not only driven by individual choices. Global forces like economic inequality, political conflicts, and climate change can create large-scale migration movements that impact entire communities and regions. Understanding the broader context is crucial for developing effective policies and responses to address the challenges and opportunities presented by migration.

3. Afghanistan and Refugees

3.1 A History of Displacement: Afghanistan has a long history of conflict and displacement. And millions of its citizens fleeing violence and instability over the past few decades. The recent takeover by the Taliban in 2021 triggered a new wave of refugees, fearing persecution and human rights violations under the new regime.

3.2 Humanitarian Crisis: The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is terrible; millions facing food insecurity, poverty, and a lack of access to necessities. The flood of refugees has placed huge strain and pressure on neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran, who have generously hosted millions of Afghans.

3.3 Global Responsibility: Addressing the Afghan refugee crisis requires a global response. The international community must provide humanitarian assistance, support for refugee-hosting countries, and long-term solutions for Afghan refugees, including resettlement opportunities and pathways to citizenship. Additionally, advocating for peace and stability within Afghanistan is crucial to prevent further displacement and create conditions for a safe return in the future.

Afghanistan has been a focal point of recent migration due to the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2021 and the subsequent Taliban takeover. Decades of conflict and an open war economy have forced Afghans to seek international movement as an adaptive livelihood strategy, with migration being influenced by gendered norms and unsafe routes.

December 18: A Day to Celebrate and Support Migrants

Every year on December 18, the world celebrates International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. In 1997, Filipino and other Asian migrant groups initiated the celebration and advocacy for December 18 as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. This date is significant because it recalls the United Nations’ approval of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families on December 18, 1990.

This day, officially recognized by the United Nations in 2000, serves as a vital reminder of the immense contributions of migrants to our societies and the challenges they often face.

Migrants enrich our communities in countless ways. They bring fresh perspectives, cultural diversity, and valuable skills to their new homes. They fill vital roles in various sectors, from healthcare and education to agriculture and technology. Their entrepreneurial spirit and hard work contribute significantly to the economic growth and development of their adopted countries and countries of origin.

However, the journey of a migrant is often troubled with challenges. Discrimination, exploitation, and lack of access to basic rights are just some hurdles they may face. On International Migrant’s Day, we must reaffirm our commitment to the human rights protection of all migrants and ensure their safety, well-being, and dignity.

Let’s use this day as an opportunity to:

  • Educate ourselves and others about the realities of migration.
  • Advocate for fair and humane treatment of migrants.
  • Celebrate the positive contributions of migrants to our communities.
  • Support organizations and groups working to improve the lives of migrants.

By working together, we can create a world where all migrants are valued and empowered to reach their full potential. Remember, on December 18 and every day, let’s show solidarity with migrants and embrace the richness they bring to our world.

Importance of Solidarity for Migrants and Refugees

In a world often marked by division and hatred, solidarity with migrants and refugees stands as a beacon of hope and humanity. For those fleeing conflict, persecution, or hardship, this solid support is more than just a sentiment; it’s a lifeline.

We can show solidarity in countless ways. It’s the open hand offering shelter to displaced families, the voice speaking out against discrimination, and the resources donated to support essential services. It’s the willingness to listen to someone’s story, understand their struggles, and see them not as a burden but as a fellow human deserving of respect and dignity.

The importance of solidarity excels the immediate needs of migrants and refugees. It nurtures a sense of shared responsibility, reminding us that our fates are interconnected. We enrich our communities, challenge our biases, and build a more just and compassionate world by welcoming those seeking haven.

In a time when fear and prejudice often dominate the narrative, solidarity reminds us of our shared humanity. It’s a call to action, an invitation to bridge divides and build bridges of understanding. Let us stand together with migrants and refugees, not out of responsibility but out of a shared desire for a world where everyone can find safety, opportunity, and belonging.

Solidarity is crucial in providing support and empathy to migrants and refugees. It helps create awareness of their difficulty, fosters understanding, and encourages collaborative efforts to address their challenges. As the international community observes December 18, it becomes an opportunity to emphasize the importance of unity in creating a more inclusive and sympathetic world for migrants.

Historical Context of Afghanistan Conflict and Refugee Crisis

For over 40 years, millions of Afghans have been forced to move around inside their country or even leave it altogether. It happened during seven different periods of violence and unrest from 1979 to 2018.

Sadly, the recent withdrawal of foreign troops and the Taliban taking over has caused even more people to flee. It is like a new eighth phase of displacement.

Experts say this new phase won’t be quick and easy. It’s likely to continue for many years because of the current situation in Afghanistan, which is still unstable, unsafe, and economically difficult.

Afghanistan Conflict and Refugee Crisis Periods 

For better understanding, we have highlighted the seventh phase of conflicts and refugee crises as bullet points below from Schmeidl, 2019:

  • Phase 1:  Soviet Union Withdraws 1978-1989
  • Phase 2: Civil War 1990-1995
  • Phase 3: Taliban Rule 1996-2000
  • Phase 4: US-led Intervention 2001/2002
  • Phase 5: Post- Bonn Period 2002-2006
  • Phase 6: Deterioration of Security 2007-2014
  • Phase 7: Security Transition (2015-2018)

Current Face of Afghanistan

The Taliban’s military takeover in Afghanistan and the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) have caused significant political and economic changes. The Doha peace process failure and the IEA’s unrecognized status and sanctions have increased Afghanistan’s fragility and easily broken. The IEA is currently unable to represent the country in the United Nations. Calls from the international community and Afghan citizens emphasize the need for an inclusive government, the restoration of women’s rights, and the true implementation of amnesty.

This shift has led to a terrible humanitarian crisis, with millions in Afghanistan facing hunger and famine. The collapse of the aid-dependent economy has resulted in widespread job losses. The Afghan Government struggles to pay public servants’ salaries, exacerbating the situation. Factors such as two recent droughts, increased insecurity under the Taliban, and ongoing conflict have intensified internal and cross-border population displacement.

Before the Taliban takeover, 5.5 million people were internally displaced in Afghanistan, a number that rose to 6.5 million post-takeovers internally and across borders (IOM 2021b; ACAPS, 2021).

In 2021, conflict and disasters led to the internal displacement of over 660,000 people. Afghans became the leading group of asylum seekers in Europe, with 28,000 first-time applications in the third quarter of 2021 (Eurostat, 2021).

Since the Taliban takeover, over a million people have left Afghanistan, with 4,000 to 5,000 daily crossings into the Islamic Republic of Iran (Goldbaum et al., 2022; NRC, 2021). The potential for further displacement hinges on the Taliban’s ability to maintain peace, negotiate international recognition, sanctions removal, and the resumption of aid flows.

Top Ten Issues of the Afghan Displacement Crisis

According to IOM MRS-71 Publication, ten critical issues in addressing the Afghan displacement crisis are as follows:

  1. Humanitarian Crisis: Afghanistan is recognized as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with 23 million people facing acute food insecurity (IPC, 2021; WFP, 2021). The UNDP reported that by the middle of 2023, almost everyone in Afghanistan, around 97% of the people, will be very poor (UNDP, 2021). It is happening because there is insufficient help, and things like the COVID-19 sickness and scarce rain are making it harder. Many people are having trouble making a living, making many of them leave their homes and move to other places nearby and maybe even farther away. It could become a big problem with people moving around a lot in the region.
  2. Fear of Taliban Retribution: The Taliban’s strict policies, particularly regarding women’s rights, contribute to a climate of fear. Many Afghans, especially those associated with the previous Government and international troops, fear for their lives.
  3. Rise of Violent Extremism: Attacks by the Islamic State Province Khorasan (IS-K) raise concerns about continued terrorism despite the Taliban’s return to power. The increase in violent extremism poses risks both locally and globally.
  4. Large-Scale Displacement: The article outlines the ongoing large-scale migration from Afghanistan, accelerated by the Taliban takeover and the withdrawal of international forces. The potential for a migration crisis similar to the 2015-2016 Syrian refugee movements is considered.

Despite obstacles to irregular migration, Afghans continue to arrive in European nations through dangerous journeys (Gross and Wright, 2021; MacGregor, 2021; OHagan, 2021). In 2020, approximately 46,000 initial asylum applications were submitted by Afghans in Europe (Eurostat, 2021; see Figure 2).

  • Gendered Migration: Afghan migration is highly gendered, with men predominantly undertaking irregular migration. Women face various barriers, including cultural norms, financial constraints, and heightened risks during migration.
  • Unaccompanied Minors: Irregular migration from Afghanistan is dominated by unaccompanied minors, particularly boys. Lack of employment opportunities and uncertainties in Afghanistan contribute to the outflow of young people.
  • Disrupted Remittance Flows: The Taliban takeover disrupted international payment flows to Afghanistan, impacting households and communities that rely on remittances for economic stability.
  • Climate Change and Vulnerability: Afghanistan’s vulnerability to climate change is discussed, highlighting the potential for climate-related events to exacerbate displacement. The country has already experienced significant warming, changes in precipitation, and increased natural disasters.
  • Prevention Programming – Stabilization: The article addresses humanitarian and development programs aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan, focusing on addressing root causes and preventing irregular migration.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: The need for improved data collection and analysis on Afghan migration is emphasized. The article highlights the importance of understanding the role of technology in migration and addressing methodological shortcomings in data gathering.

Global Responses to Afghan Displacement

The Taliban’s unrecognized status and sanctions contribute to Afghanistan’s fragility, prompting global responses to address the displacement crisis. The international community faces challenges in recognizing the new Government, impacting humanitarian aid and stability efforts. Policymakers struggle with ten critical issues, emphasizing the need to consider displacement within the broader crisis context.

The displacement of Afghans, both within the country and across borders, has been a defining feature of the past few decades. Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, this crisis has increased and intensified, sparking a global response with both inadequacies and promising developments.

Immediate Relief and Protection

A key focus has been providing immediate humanitarian aid. The UN-led Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP) for 2024 aimed to support 7.3 million displaced Afghans in neighboring countries. The RRP 2024 requires USD 620M funds to cover the 7.3M Afghans’ needs. Initiatives by UNHCR and other agencies deliver vital food, shelter, education, healthcare, and social inclusion. However, funding gaps and the volatile situation in Afghanistan pose challenges.

Afghanistan Situation Funding (2023) and Afghan Refugees

According to the UNHCR update as of August 15, 2023, on the Operational Data Portal, Afghanistan situation funding in 2023 is as follows:

  • Total Appeal: $505,980,372
  • Received to date: $241,102,46
  • Gap Percentage: $264,877,905

Long-term Solutions and Reintegration

Moving beyond immediate needs, efforts are underway to address the root causes of displacement and create sustainable solutions. The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted in 2018, offers a framework for international cooperation. One promising development is the 2024-25 recalibration of the RRP into a multi-year plan. It aims to support refugees and host communities in five neighboring countries through long-term resilience, inclusion, and solutions-oriented programs. Additionally, UNHCR maintains a non-return advisory for Afghanistan, emphasizing the need for safe and dignified return when conditions allow.

Navigating Complexities and Challenges for Afghan Refugees

Despite these efforts, the global response faces complexities. Concerns regarding the Taliban’s human rights record and the fragile security situation in Afghanistan hinder effective reintegration efforts. Additionally, refugee resettlement processes in receiving countries remain uneven and often slow. The international community must work together to address these challenges and ensure a comprehensive and sustainable response prioritizing displaced Afghans’ safety and well-being.

Afghan Refugees’ Statistics in Neighboring Countries

The migration crisis extends beyond Afghanistan, with a significant daily arrival into Pakistan, Iran, and Afghans being the leading group of asylum seekers in Europe, the USA, and Australia.

Registered refugees and Afghans in refugee-like situations in Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan statistics are as follows per the UNHCR data updated on November 30, 2023:

  • Iran (Islamic Republic of): 64.7% – 3,431,680
  • Pakistan (Islamic Republic of): 34.9% – 1,853,100
  • Uzbekistan: 0.2% – 13,025
  • Tajikistan: 0.2% – 8,164
  • Turkmenistan: 0.0% – 9

The total number of registered refugees and Afghans in refugee-like situations reaches 5,305,978.

The following are the number of Afghan new arrivals to neighboring countries since August 2021 according to the UNHCR data updated on November 30, 2023:

  • Iran (Islamic Republic of): 61.8% – 1,000,000
  • Pakistan (Islamic Republic of): 37.1% – 600,000
  • Uzbekistan: 0.8% – 13,020
  • Tajikistan: 0.4% – 6,125

The number of Afghan new arrivals to neighboring countries since August 2021 reached 1,619,145.

Afghan refugee returnees to Afghanistan in 2023 reached 35,226 as per the last UNHCR update on December 15, 2023.

Challenges Faced by Afghan Refugees

Afghan refugees encounter many challenges, including fear of Taliban retribution, the rise of violent extremism, disrupted remittance flows, climate change vulnerability, and a humanitarian crisis. These challenges underscore the urgency of addressing the multifaceted issues within Afghanistan and the countries hosting Afghan refugees.

The challenges faced by Afghan refugees are intensified by the gendered nature of migration, with men mainly undertaking irregular migration and unaccompanied minors making a significant portion of those seeking refuge.

The displacement of millions of Afghans within their country and across borders has created a complex humanitarian crisis with far-reaching consequences. Here are three key challenges faced by Afghan refugees in addition to the crisis above, along with reliable sources for further information:

Basic Needs and Livelihoods

  • Food insecurity: Afghanistan faces its third consecutive year of drought, reducing agricultural production and food security. According to the World Food Program (WFP), 15.3 million people in Afghanistan face acute food insecurity, with 2.7 million facing emergency levels of hunger. Displaced Afghans, particularly women and children, are often among the most vulnerable.
  • Lack of shelter and healthcare: Many refugees live in temporary camps or overcrowded shelters, lacking necessities like sanitation and healthcare. It exposes them to infectious diseases and other health risks. Additionally, access to specialized healthcare for chronic conditions is often limited.
  • Limited livelihood opportunities: Finding work is a major challenge for Afghan refugees. They often lack official documentation or skills relevant to the host country’s economy, leading to unemployment and economic hardship.

Safety and Security

  • Violence and persecution: The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan continues to threaten civilians, and many refugees fear returning home due to the risk of violence, persecution, or discrimination based on their ethnicity, religion, or political beliefs.
  • Exploitation and trafficking: Displaced Afghans, especially women and children, are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Lack of legal protection and desperation for necessities can increase their risk.
  • Limited access to legal rights and documentation: Many refugees lack proper documentation, making accessing essential services and navigating legal processes difficult. It can leave them vulnerable to arrest, detention, and deportation.

Integration and Mental Health

  • Social and cultural integration: Refugees often face discrimination and language barriers, making it difficult to integrate into their host communities. It can lead to social isolation and mental health challenges.
  • Trauma and psychological distress: The experience of displacement and violence can leave lasting psychological scars. Many refugees suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), requiring access to mental health services.
  • Education and prospects: Access to education is often disrupted for refugee children, hindering their development and future opportunities. Displaced children by war and persecution are shut out of schools. It can perpetuate cycles of poverty and marginalization.

These are just some of the challenges faced by Afghan refugees. Understanding these complexities is crucial for designing effective humanitarian responses and advocating for their protection and well-being.

Bridging Gaps and Solutions for Improvement

The world urgently and consistently needs to address the gaps in the current response not only to the Afghan displacement crisis but also to the whole world refugee crisis.

Policymakers must consider displacement within the broader crisis context, focusing on stabilization, prevention programming, and improved data collection and analysis. Bridging these gaps is crucial for effective long-term solutions. The following are brief descriptions of some promising solutions for migrants.

  • Approval and implementation of international migration frameworks: Universal endorsement of key instruments like the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is crucial for setting minimum standards for migrant protection.
  • Strengthening legal pathways for safe and orderly migration: Expanding legal migration channels can help reduce irregular migration, protect migrants from exploitation, and contribute to economic development in sending and receiving countries.
  • Investing in inclusion and integration: Promoting social inclusion and intercultural understanding can foster welcoming communities that respect and value migrant contributions. It includes facilitating language learning, promoting cultural exchange, and combating discrimination.
  • Technology and Innovation: Technology empowers migrants by providing secure digital IDs to access essential services, financial inclusion, and legal protection. Remote skills training and language learning enhance employability. Blockchain solutions streamline remittances, ensure fair compensation, and foster trust, creating a supportive and equitable environment for migrant success.
  • Policy and Governance: Enhancing migrant integration through decentralized efforts, empowering local communities to create inclusive policies, and strengthening labor protections by enforcing robust laws against exploitation and discrimination, irrespective of immigration status, are effective ways to help migrants and refugees. Furthermore, promoting ethical recruitment practices by implementing regulations and standards for fair treatment and preventing exploitation by recruitment agencies is another effective solution.
  • Financial and Economic Solutions: Supporting migrant empowerment via microfinance and social enterprises, enabling diaspora investment for economic growth and opportunities, encouraging development cooperation to address migration root causes, and creating sustainable opportunities in migrant-sending countries can be financial solutions for migrants.
  • Advocacy and Awareness: Combat discrimination by promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding for more welcoming migrant communities. Empowering migrant voices through initiatives can help them advocate for their rights and participation in decision-making. Raise awareness about migrant challenges and contributions through media campaigns, fostering empathy and support.

Migration’s Upsides and Downsides for World and Afghanistan

Migration, the movement of people across borders, has both benefits and drawbacks. It can boost economies and enrich cultures in host countries, but also leave social and economic challenges in origin countries like Afghanistan. This duality requires careful consideration to maximize positive impacts and minimize negative ones.

According to the UNHCR News in October 2021, despite being only 3.5% of the world’s population, migrants contribute significantly to economic recovery, generating 9% of global GDP, as per 2015 data. Studies from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank indicate that a 1% increase in migrants correlates with a 2% income rise. A 3% immigrant growth in developed countries could boost global GDP by $356 billion by 2025.

As of October 2021, UNHCR reports that migrant remittances, totaling $551 billion, exceed foreign aid for development by three times. In 2019, they witnessed a 4.7% increase in remittances to residents of low- and middle-income countries. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan rank among the top five nations receiving the highest remittances relative to their GDP.

However, migration also presents challenges. When skilled individuals leave their home countries, brain drain can delay development and intensify existing inequalities. Social disruption in sending countries can also occur due to family separation and weakened social structures. Racism and discrimination against migrants in host countries can further intensify these challenges.

Afghanistan’s story exemplifies the complexity of migration’s impact. While Afghan refugees have sent billions back home, the country faces significant challenges due to large-scale displacement.

The mass migration of skilled professionals has created a brain drain, delaying reconstruction and development efforts. Moreover, the long-term displacement of millions has weakened the country’s social structures and traditional support systems. The mass migration has also posed security concerns for neighboring countries.

Navigating the complexities of migration requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges its benefits and drawbacks. By promoting integration, protecting migrant rights, and addressing the root causes of displacement, we can strive to ensure that migration benefits both sending and receiving countries, including Afghanistan.

Global Responsibility: Addressing the Afghan Refugees Crisis

For Sustainable World

The dilemma of Afghan refugees fleeing violence, persecution, and instability is a true reminder of humanity’s shared responsibility. The complexities of the crisis demand a global response that goes beyond offering temporary shelter. While immediate humanitarian aid is important, the international community must work together to address the root causes driving displacement – conflict, poverty, and a lack of opportunities within Afghanistan.

Only through establishing a stable and inclusive government, healthy diplomatic efforts, long-term development investments, and a fair burden-sharing of refugees among nations can we uphold our global responsibility and offer hope for a bright future for Afghan families. It’s better to collectively note that a sustainable Afghanistan is a sustainable Asia, even the world.

Beyond Refuge: Building a Path Forward for Afghan Refugees

The current Afghan refugee crisis is not just a migration issue. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe demanding a comprehensive and collaborative solution. While providing safe havens through resettlement programs is crucial, focusing solely on emergency measures risks spreading displacement. We must shift towards supporting host countries with long-term infrastructure development, education, and skills training programs for refugees. Promoting economic opportunities within Afghanistan and ensuring human rights and security is key to preventing further displacement and enabling ultimate, safe return. Embracing the Afghan refugee crisis as a shared global challenge and investing in sustainable solutions rather than short-term fixes is the only way to build a brighter future for all.

Conclusion

In conclusion, December 18 stands as a day to emphasize global solidarity with migrants and refugees, with a particular focus on the Afghan displacement crisis. The multi-layered challenges, geopolitical complexities, and the need for collective action highlight the urgency of addressing the crisis in an increasingly unstable global order. The world’s response on this day can pave the way for more inclusive, compassionate, and effective solutions for migrants and refugees worldwide.

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Disclaimer: Although the writer has tried to indicate as many useful points as possible in this article, but has tried to keep it shorter so that readers review the most important ones about migrants, improvements, and their challenges at a glance. For detailed information, please check the links to the official documents and reports published by international NGOs and institutions.

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