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Afghanistan: What is Here and What is Yet to Come

I do not want to discount the monumental efforts that have been put forth to evacuate people from Afghanistan, but I am morally obligated, as someone watching this unfold quite intimately, to tell you what things currently look like behind the scenes and to say that we are simply not doing enough.

This has been one of the most agonizing disasters to watch unfold because so much could have been prevented or avoided. Those of us who have been on the frontlines of this migration disaster have been sounding the alarm over the crisis stemming from Afghanistan for years. Decades, even. U.S. involvement in this conflict started when I was six years old. Most of my Afghan brothers and I do not remember a time when Afghanistan was peaceful and safe. We have watched with horror as the Taliban proved to be more organized, manipulative, and ruthless than the West surely imagined they would become. We have watched with equal distress as the lens on displacement shifted from a humanitarian disaster to an issue of security. The consequences of this being a total absence of safe, legal pathways for people to seek safety and an increasing hostility towards those of us coming to their aid when border securitization policies leave people's lives hanging in the balance.


The current narrative significantly understates the magnitude of the crisis that has already unfolded and the crisis that looms.


I have three scales at which I am concerned about this situation - the immediate dangers to those inside of Afghanistan, the long-term safety and security of those who do manage to leave or have left and are now in precarious positions in third countries, and the longer-term safety of Afghan people who will undoubtedly be at risk for deadly refoulment, as has been standard practice by Western governments for decades.


Currently


The situation inside of Afghanistan is extremely hostile and precarious. The banks are closed, there will soon be severe food and medicine shortages. People will not be able to pay rent or buy basic necessities. Even those who are able to secure visas and flights can’t safely travel to the airports. Waves of internal displacement have been ongoing from areas where there was heavy fighting and a large-scale crisis is looming.

My friends and their families are inconsolable. We live in constant fear, especially those who were previously threatened by the Taliban. We are living on borrowed time.

As far as securing visas and spots on evacuation lists, the system is completely chaotic. There is no cohesion between the different bodies even within the same governments. There is no public information on how people will be prioritized or what the action plan is should this start heading in the direction of mass casualties and/or targeted killings within Afghanistan.

We are basically throwing everything we’ve got at the wall praying that something sticks. We are jeopardizing people’s safety by asking for details over insecure messaging platforms if it is the only way we can contact them. We are submitting their biometric data to Google forms and sketchy .gov emails because this is the only chance we have at saving people that we love.


Third Countries


Afghans have had to flee their cities or country for years now as some areas like Herat were hubs of consistent episodes of violence (most recently against UN workers), and the capital of Kabul was deemed one of the most dangerous cities in the world for civilians for several years running. Families have been split up for decades. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans live in danger as undocumented forced migrants in countries that refuse to recognize them as legitimate asylum seekers, or are detained indefinitely.

Understandably, my brothers in Turkey and the EU have been asking what their admissibility options are and what will happen with reunification options if their family members are sent to other countries. I do not have an answer to that.

My biggest fear is that those who were forced to flee before this critical breaking point will be stuck in perpetual limbo. I have witnessed the damage that this waiting game or asylum rejection does to the physical, mental, and emotional safety of people fleeing conflict and instability. It is torture.


Conditions in EU refugee camps and the psychological hardship of waiting for asylum decisions amounts to torture

Countries like the United States must make a hard stance - NOW - on whether or not they will process immediate family members of those resettled in the US now or in the future. This could dictate the decisions people make going forward if it means they risk never seeing their families again.

Countries like the United States have a moral obligation to diplomatically guarantee a safe migration pathway to the U.S. for anyone eligible for all U.S. visa types regardless of where they end up when forced to flee for their lives.

Looking ahead, I predict that countries in the European Union or even as far-fetched as North America will make strategic efforts to outsource their human rights abuses to countries in closer geographical proximity to Afghanistan who - not by accident - have much looser human rights standards and very questionable records when it comes to protecting refugees, asylum seekers, or noncitizens in general.

This is already being done with countries like Libya and Turkey being considered “safe” third countries by policymakers in the EU. Turkey has yet to declare whether or not they will halt deportations to Afghanistan with this recent shift in power. 20 members of my community have been rounded up in the past 18 days. Almost all are Afghan. Roundups continue and are being widely publicized. Turkey has already said it will establish a working relationship with the Taliban, which is harrowing foreshadowing and which, I believe, will only end in an expressway for people to be refouled back to Afghanistan where they will likely face retaliation in the form of imprisonment, torture, or death.

This is not the time to give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt. We must be vigilant in how world leaders interact with this shift in power and leadership.

This is not the time to turn a blind eye as horrifying atrocities occur at borders and behind closed doors. Turkey and Greece have both bulked up their border fences and deployed questionably ethical (and legal) practices to deter illegal crossings including, but not limited to, LRAD sound cannons, drone surveillance, and an increase in life-threatening violence and brutality.

This is not the time to think “this does not concern me” - the amount of distress this recent turn of events is causing in the diaspora community, the humanitarian sector, and among our veterans who all promised to help those still inside Afghanistan will last a lifetime. You likely know someone who is only one degree of separation away from this issue. I will NEVER recover from the moral injury and trauma this past week has caused. I will carry this sadness and guilt for the rest of my life. It did not need to be this way. And I know this pales in comparison to the severe distress my Afghan brothers and sisters are experiencing.


Making bolani like my Afghan sisters taught me

My final word is a message for my Afghan brothers and sisters.

Since being warmly welcomed into your families and homes when I embarked on my humanitarian career, I have been humbled again and again by the loyalty and richness of your community.

I have found the strongest friendships among my Afghan brothers and sisters, and I am forever grateful for the space you have always held for me and the way I felt included in your culture when I always struggled to fit into my own.

No matter what happens, please know that I am a permanent ally to you and I will defend your human rights, your honor, your humanity, and the beauty of your country and culture until my dying breath.


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