English News

  • youtube
  • facebook
  • twitter

Displaced Afghans find it hard to enter Central Asia, Pakistan

File photo of Afghans protesting in Kabul over increased fighting (Photo: IANS)

In one of the latest numerous appeals, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called upon Afghanistan's neighbours to take in more refugees from the war-stricken country.

UNHCR Regional Spokesperson for Asia and the Pacific, Catherine Stubberfield, told Sputnik: "At this stage, our primary concern is that Afghans who are seeking safety can reach it, including across borders and into neighbouring countries if needed. UNHCR is calling on countries neighbouring Afghanistan to keep their borders open in light of the intensifying crisis in Afghanistan".

Stubberfield said that the refugee evacuation initiatives undertaken by countries covers the needs of some Afghans only while the number of internally displaced people has touched 3.5 million, including over 500,000 displaced since January 2021.

Aghanistan's immediate neighbours include Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Of these, according to the UNHCR, most of the Afghan refugees have been absorbed by Pakistan and Iran.

Pakistan is estimated to have given shelter to nearly 3.2 million Afghan refugees since 2002, of which more than 1.4 million still remain in the country. The unending Afghan conflict has been exacerbated by active Pakistani involvement through its army and intelligence agencies. Even though Pakistani ministers have said that they will not allow any more refugees and have sealed the borders, small numbers of Afghans seem to be slipping in.

Afghanistan's western neighbour Iran has been supporting Afghans for decades and is taking in more refugees. It currently has nearly 1 million Afghans with refugee cards. A majority of the refugees fleeing Afghanistan for Iran are the minority Shia sect, many of whom are the persecuted Hazaras.

In the current unrest engulfing Afghanistan, many Afghan army soldiers have taken shelter in Iran. Just a few days back nearly 130 prominent Iranians urged their government to increase asylum numbers for Afghans.

On the other hand, Afghanistan's northern neighbours–the Central Asian Republics (CAR)–still close to Russia, continue to be suspicious of not just the US but also of Afghans. Fearful of ISIS members infiltrating in the guise of refugees, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have remained cold to inviting in refugees from their southern neighbour.

This apart, the CAR are also proud of their highly secular credentials and feel a perceived threat from fundamentalists and terrorists. They fear that Afghan refugees could undermine their own social fabric.

In June this year, the Taliban attacked Afghan provinces near the Tajik border, managing to bring it under their control. A few thousand Afghan troops as well as civilians fled across the border.

Even though Tajikistan announced in July that it is ready to accept upto one lakh refugees, Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin soon dismissed those claims, saying that due to coronavirus concerns, the country cannot put a number to figures. Moreover, the strengthened security on the border does not seem to bolster the sentiment that Afghans are welcome.

Despite a very small border of just 144 kms, this CAR nation is not ready to host Afghans. It is also afraid of the militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) joining hands with the Taliban on their joint border.

An effort to send a signal to the Taliban, Uzbek security forces held military exercises with Russian troops within visual range from the Aghan side. Despite the heightened border security, Afghan security forces flew their helicopters with personnel into the country. Also some influential war lords and Uzbek fighters managed to cross over into the country.

The country has enjoyed good relations with the Taliban but has now fortified its borders with a view to keeping all shades of Afghans out.
The small CAR country is also not known for welcoming refugees and has in fact deported them back. The country is also very biased for the Turk ethnicity of its refugees.

The Central Asian nations have also rebuffed US President Joe Biden's request to accept Afghan nationals on Washington's behalf. Moreover, many have held ground and air exercises with Russia to deter any refugee movement from the Afghan border.