Afghanistan + 5 more

After the Airlift: Protection for Afghan Refugees and Those Who Remain at Risk in Afghanistan

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By Hardin Lang, Sarah Miller, Daphne Panayotatos, Yael Schacher, and Eric Schwartz


The scenes at the Kabul airport in recent weeks have been devastating. The airlifts were a race against time to evacuate U.S. citizens, citizens of allied countries, Afghans associated with the U.S. and allied presence in Afghanistan, and a limited number of Afghan men and women most at-risk under a Taliban rule. The United States and its partners did manage to rescue tens of thousands of people – an essential achievement. However, the airlift must be just the beginning of a sustained effort to ensure protection for Afghans still at-risk, whether seeking safety outside their country’s borders or in need of support within.

Whatever one’s views of the decision to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, the execution of the troop withdrawal and the Taliban’s seizure of power have created substantial risks of serious reprisals for hundreds of thousands of Afghans. The situation inside Afghanistan remains highly unstable and ongoing civil conflict is a real prospect. The Taliban have a long history of committing systematic, widespread, and egregious violations of human rights. Despite public statements suggesting a more moderate stance, there have been credible reports of grave violations of human rights by Taliban elements in recent weeks in many parts of Afghanistan. New risks come amidst an existing humanitarian crisis driven by conflict, drought, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
And half of the population requires humanitarian aid.

The outlook for Afghanistan’s civilian population is deeply concerning. The scale of humanitarian need inside the country will grow, as will the number of Afghans who reasonably feel compelled to seek safety abroad. These trends are distinct but not unrelated. And while Afghans will face the greatest costs, there will be implications in the region and the world. Afghanistan’s neighbors, already home to 90 percent of Afghan refugees, are having their willingness to welcome tested. The United States, Europe, and others more removed geographically nonetheless face obligations to address the growing needs for humanitarian aid and protection of the well-being and basic rights of Afghans.

The reach, scale, and complexity of this situation demands a coordinated, comprehensive international response that looks beyond the urgent evacuations that have taken place. Governments that declared solidarity with the Afghan people must match their actions to their rhetoric and demonstrate humanitarian leadership.

Summary of Recommendations

There are ten critical sets of actions that the United States, the United Nations, and other governments should take to address humanitarian needs and advance the well-being and the human rights of Afghans most at risk. They include the following:

  1. President Biden Should Appoint a U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan.
    The president should designate a U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and the region to coordinate and drive U.S. diplomatic and humanitarian engagement across all elements of the international response, including the effort to ensure Afghans at-risk can continue to leave Afghanistan.

  2. The Biden Administration Must Press for Safe Passage for Afghans Who Must Flee.
    The Biden administration should work to establish safe passage, including through humanitarian corridors, to facilitate flight for at-risk Afghans.

  3. The United States Should Provide a Pathway to Permanent Status for Afghans.
    Congress should enact the Biden Administration’s proposal to accord Afghans benefits commensurate with Refugee Admissions Program benefits and to authorize their adjustment to permanent status.

  4. President Biden Should Announce a Refugee Admissions Ceiling of 200,000.
    To accommodate the need for additional Afghan resettlement and to send an important signal of U.S. responsibility-sharing to governments neighboring Afghanistan that may be providing refuge to Afghans, the president should announce a Fiscal Year 2022 refugee ceiling of 200,000.

  5. The Administration Must Promote Afghan-American Leadership.
    The Biden administration should ensure that U.S. resettlement NGOs partner with Afghan-American organizations.

  6. The United States should provide at least $5 billion in direct additional funding to civilian agencies.
    Congress should support at least $5 billion in direct additional funding to civilian agencies to address special needs over the next two years relating to Afghanistan and at-risk Afghans, for overseas relief, regional countries hosting refugees, and U.S. resettlement programs.

  7. The UN Secretary General Should Appoint a UN Envoy and the Security Council Should Modify the UN Presence in Afghanistan.
    The UN Secretary General should designate a UN special envoy for Afghan humanitarian and refugee issues, and a new UN mandate in Afghanistan should prioritize effective provision of humanitarian assistance and protection of human rights—and should be conditioned on the safety and security of UN and humanitarian aid workers.

  8. Donors Should Support Regional Countries That Will Host Afghans.
    Donors should pursue long-term funding arrangements for regional host countries so they can support refugees and communities that host them.

  9. Pakistan, Other Neighboring Governments, and Turkey Must Provide Refuge. Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan’s northern neighbors, and Turkey should provide both refuge and access to services for Afghans who may flee.

  10. The European Union and EU Member States Must Welcome Afghans.
    European governments must uphold access to asylum, ensure fair asylum processes and adequate reception conditions throughout Europe, and generously expand resettlement for Afghan refugees.