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Mexico and Brazil become the new frontier for desperate Afghan refugees

Refugees from Afghanistan at the island of Lesvos, Greece, in 2020 (Photo: Xinhua/Marios Lolos/IANS)

Afghan refugees are arriving in Mexico and Brazil in hundreds with a view to entering the US and also Canada for a life away from conflict and persecution.

One-and-a-half years after the fall of Kabul to Taliban fighters in August 2021, the sense of desperation among the poverty-stricken and conflict-ridden Afghans is only increasing. Thousands fled the country to neighbouring countries Iran and Pakistan. Many reached various European countries in the most trying and sub-human conditions where they find that the situation is not conducive for migrants.

CNN reports that in January 2023, nearly 13,000 people registered for asylum in Mexico of which there were 430 Afghans – the seventh-highest nationality and the only one from outside the western hemisphere.

CNN spoke with COMAR, Mexico’s refugee assistance agency. COMAR head Andrés Ramírez told CNN: “The Afghans are the kind of people that actually want to go to the US, that’s what our reading is because you know that the culture is so different from the Mexican culture”.

That more Afghans are completing their traumatised journeys in Mexico is being reflected in the numbers who arrive at international health organisations seeking treatment. The Afghans also face language barriers as most of them only speak Pashto and Dari.

US data also shows that more and more Afghans are applying for asylum to the US. US federal court documents show that immigration applications for 410 Afghan adults were processed in January 2023 as compared to just 31 in May 2022, showing how the numbers have grown exponentially.

Till now it was believed that most were scouting for ways to escape to Europe via Iran and Turkey. But now hundreds of Afghan men are travelling as far as Mexico and Brazil to make an escape to the US, and sometimes Canada. They are helped in their risky endeavours by human traffickers and smugglers.

A report by Reuters says that many Afghans are arriving in Brazil on humanitarian visas.

The South American country offers a two-year residency, right to work and study as well as apply for refugee status. Since September 2021, soon after the fall of the democratic government of Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, nearly 4,000 Afghans have come to Brazil on humanitarian visa.

From Brazil the migrants head to the US as they find it difficult to adjust in Brazil. In 2022, nearly 2,200 Afghans headed to the US through a dangerous land route from Colombia and Panama. In comparison with 2021, just 24 Afghans had arrived from this route to the US.

Then there are other Afghans who have been criss-crossing the US-Canada border in search of a suitable home as they wait for the countries to take a decision on their asylum decisions. Afghans tired of waiting for US authorities have often crossed the border into Canada and there have been instances of Afghans moving the other way as well.

With living conditions in Afghanistan only slipping under the Taliban’s inglorious rule as well as slapped with sanctions, it is the common and the educated Afghan who faces the wrath of daily life in a pariah nation.

Also read: No more, say Austria and Greece to more war-weary migrants from Afghanistan