For Afghan women and men in danger, leaving their country is impossible, or nearly so. It’s an obstacle course, pure and simple—made so by the policies of regional governments and the broken promises of many others. These are political choices that increase the use of traffickers and irregular, expensive and dangerous routes.
This is what emerges from the latest Amnesty International short report published on Wednesday. The content is already in the title: Like an Obstacle Course. Thanks to a team of researchers in 13 different countries, the report analyzes government policies through mid-September in 27 countries, including those that contributed to the mid-August evacuation plan (from Albania to Uzbekistan, including Italy), and which, once that plan ended, “promised not to abandon the thousands of at-risk Afghans,” including “those named in the evacuation lists.”
Since then, however, “only few of these countries, including Canada and Ireland, have actually kept their word.” The problems start with the neighboring countries, “none [of which] has kept their borders open for Afghans seeking refuge.” Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are asking for visas and paperwork. These are legitimate requests for documents during ordinary times, according to Amnesty, but not in the current emergency.
Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are continuing with deportations back to Afghanistan. According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between August 27 and September 9, the Iranian authorities deported 58,279 undocumented Afghans; in the same period, Pakistan deported 230. Between January 1 and September 23, 2021, Turkey, a country where there are 130,000 Afghan refugees or asylum seekers and another 50,000 with different status, “captured” 44,565 irregular Afghan migrants.
In 2020, it deported at least 6,000. In recent days, the announcement came of an extension of the Turkish wall on the border with Iran by 295 km. The three countries, Amnesty points out, are violating the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the forced transfer to countries where there is a serious risk of human rights violations or inability to prevent further transfer to these countries.
For now, European governments have suspended deportations. But France continues to issue orders for future deportations and, like Denmark, is forcing Afghans into deportation centers, from which they stand to be deported later. Bulgaria, Croatia and Poland have adopted repressive measures on their borders, but at the same time, in some cases, they are assisting the refugees’ transfer to the United States or third countries, at Washington’s invitation.
In addition to rejections, “confinements” in border areas are increasing: on the Tajik-Afghan border, 80 families remain in limbo, while others are stranded between Poland and Belarus. In August, Italy evacuated 5,011 people from Kabul, including 4,890 Afghan citizens. It then promised further assistance for people at risk, through “land evacuations from neighboring countries” (but the report lists many problems at the borders, which are mostly closed) and “setting up humanitarian corridors,” which could happen in the coming days.
Within the European Union, a more powerful force than generosity is the determination “to effectively protect external borders and prevent unauthorized entry,” as stated by the EU Council of August 31. Meanwhile, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called for the relocation to Europe of half of the 85,000 Afghan refugees estimated to be in need over the next 5 years.
Amnesty offers a separate assessment for the United States’ Operation Allies Welcome. It is “unique,” Amnesty explains, because of its scale (95,000 people) and because Afghans are relocated not only on U.S. soil, but also in U.S. military facilities around the world and to third countries.
But there are testimonies of “restriction on freedom of movement for Afghan evacuees in U.S. military bases and detention and transfer to third countries of Afghan evacuees who have not cleared the very stringent U.S. security checks.” The recommendations of Amnesty are to “take immediate measures now to enable exit from Afghanistan” and “offer international protection both to new arrivals” and to those Afghans who are already in other territories.