I. Executive Summary
These Guidelines supersede the April 2016 UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Afghanistan. They are issued against a background of continuing concerns about the security situation and widespread human rights abuses. They contain information on particular profiles of persons for whom international protection needs may arise in the current context in Afghanistan.
These Guidelines include the most up-to-date information available at the time of writing, from a wide variety of sources. The analysis contained in these Guidelines is informed by publicly available information as well as by information collected and obtained by UNHCR in the course of its operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as by other UN agencies and partner organizations.
All claims lodged by asylum-seekers need to be considered on their own merits according to fair and efficient status determination procedures and up-to-date and relevant country of origin information. This applies whether the claims are analysed on the basis of the refugee criteria contained in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“1951 Convention”) and its 1967 Protocol, UNHCR’s mandate, regional refugee instruments, or on the basis of broader international protection criteria, including complementary forms of protection.
1. Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention
People fleeing Afghanistan may be at risk of persecution for reasons that are related to the ongoing armed conflict in Afghanistan, or on the basis of serious human rights violations that are not directly related to the conflict, or a combination of the two. UNHCR considers that individuals falling into one or more of the following risk profiles may be in need of international refugee protection, depending on the individual circumstances of the case:
(1) Individuals associated with, or perceived as supportive of, the Government and the international community, including the international military forces;
(2) Journalists and other media professionals;
(3) Men of fighting age, and children in the context of underage and forced recruitment;
(4) Civilians suspected of supporting anti-government elements (AGEs);
(5) Members of minority religious groups, and persons perceived as contravening Sharia law;
(6) Individuals perceived as contravening AGEs’ interpretation of Islamic principles, norms and values;
(7) Women with certain profiles or in specific circumstances;
(8) Women and men who are perceived as contravening social mores;
(9) Individuals with disabilities, including in particular mental disabilities, and persons suffering from mental illnesses;
(10) Children with certain profiles or in specific circumstances;
(11) Survivors of trafficking or bonded labour and persons at risk of being trafficked or of bonded labour;
(12) Individuals of diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities;
(13) Members of (minority) ethnic groups;
(14) Individuals involved in blood feuds;
(15) Business people, other people of means and their family members.
This list is not necessarily exhaustive and is based on information available to UNHCR at the time of writing. A claim should not automatically be considered as without merit simply because it does not fall within any of the profiles identified here. Depending on the specific circumstances of the case, family members or other members of the households of individuals found to be at risk of persecution may also be in need of international protection on the basis of their association with individuals at risk.
Afghanistan continues to be affected by a non-international armed conflict. Individuals fleeing harm or the threat of harm in the context of this conflict may meet the criteria for refugee status as contained in Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Convention. For this to be the case, there must be a reasonable possibility that the individual would experience serious harm amounting to persecution for reasons related to the grounds set out in Article 1(A)(2).
Human rights violations and exposure to violence may amount to persecution within Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Convention, either independently or cumulatively. In the context of the conflict in Afghanistan, relevant factors in assessing the human rights violations or other serious harm that would be reasonably possible for an individual include: (i) the control over civilian populations by antigovernment elements (AGEs), including through the imposition of parallel justice structures and the meting out of illegal punishments, as well as by means of threats and intimidation of civilians, restrictions on freedom of movement, and the use of extortion and illegal taxation; (ii) forced recruitment; (iii) the impact of violence and insecurity on the humanitarian situation as manifested by food insecurity, poverty and the destruction of livelihoods; (iv) high levels of organized crime and the ability of local strongmen, warlords and corrupt government officials to operate with impunity; (v) systematic constraints on access to education and basic health care as a result of insecurity; and (vi) systematic constraints on participation in public life, including in particular for women.
For an individual who flees harm or the threat of harm in the context of the armed conflict in Afghanistan to meet the criteria for refugee status as contained in Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Convention, the risk of persecution must also be for reason of a 1951 Convention ground. In the context of Afghanistan, examples of circumstances where civilians are subjected to violence for a 1951 Convention ground include situations where violence is targeted at areas where civilians of specific ethnic, political or religious profiles predominantly reside, or at locations where civilians of such profiles predominantly gather (including markets, mosques, schools, or large social gatherings such as weddings). To qualify for refugee status there is no requirement that an individual be known personally to the agent(s) of persecution or be sought out personally by those agents. Similarly, entire communities may have a well-founded fear of persecution for one or more of the 1951 Convention grounds; there is no requirement that an individual suffer a form or degree of harm that differs from that suffered by other individuals with the same profile.