The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has prompted the start of a mass exodus of people fleeing the country’s new government. Western countries have announced plans to accept some of these people, with the UK committing to welcome 20,000 people over the next five years, with women and religious minorities receiving priority access to the resettlement programme.
Canada and the US have announced similar plans, while countries such as Austria and Switzerland have responded by saying they will resist a large influx of refugees from Afghanistan.
Figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), however, show that Europe and North America are not the top destinations for Afghan refugees. Neighbouring countries are generally the main destination, with Pakistan hosting nearly 1.5 million refugees from Afghanistan in 2020, over half of all the refugees accounted for by the UNHCR (55.4 per cent). Iran, another country bordering Afghanistan, has taken in some 780,000 refugees, or around 30 per cent of the total number of Afghan refugees across the world. Turkey was hosting some 125,100 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan.
In Europe, Germany has taken in the biggest number of Afghan migrants: 148,000 refugees and 33,100 asylum-seekers. By comparison, there were only 9,351 refugees and 3,227 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan in the UK in 2020.
According to the UNHCR’s assessments, there were nearly three million internally displaced people in Afghanistan in 2020. This year, between 20,000 to 30,000 additional people were fleeing the country every week. Both numbers are likely to increase as the Taliban’s takeover sets in.
This article appears in the 25 Aug 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Retreat