The World’s Delayed Response to the Situation in Afghanistan
Millions of Afghan refugees flood over the border into neighboring countries, seeking asylum from the Taliban’s oppressive policies (Wikimedia Commons).
After twenty years of conflict with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the Taliban, a militant Islamic fundamentalist group, retook control of the country in 2021. Since then, the country has faced numerous changes, triggering protests and a massive influx of refugees to neighboring countries. However, the overwhelming number of applicants and the politics of the situation have complicated the visa application process, leaving many stranded in an increasingly unstable country. Still, world leaders have struggled to make any meaningful change.
Big Changes in Afghanistan Cause an Increase in Afghan Refugees
After the Taliban takeover in 2021, the U.S. and its allies decided to freeze $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off all international funding, severely harming the Afghan economy. It is estimated that this cutoff in aid amounted to nearly 40 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.
In addition to these economic changes, there was also significant social change due to the Taliban’s conservative interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. For example, the Taliban regime has severely limited young women’s access to education. “We are happy that the university has started, but I am sad that our sisters cannot attend universities,” one male student told independent Afghan outlet TOLO News.
Since December, the Taliban has denied Afghan women and girls access to secondary and tertiary education because they did not observe Islamic dress rules and other Islamic principles, such as traveling with a male guardian and abstaining from interaction with male students. The Taliban has also banned women from working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), preventing many students from accessing education through NGO-provided programs.
As the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan said, “The education and participation of women and girls in public life is fundamental to any modern society... education for all is not only a basic human right, it is the key to progress and development of a nation.” “Women were already on the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of access to critical aid services, but it seems they are being completely erased,” added Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for South Asia. If this fear becomes a reality, there will be a surge in food insecurities, malnutrition, and a decrease in access to education, all of which will cause chain reactions.
At a Crucial Point for Afghan Refugees, the Visa Application Process has Slowed
Since the Taliban takeover in 2021, the top priority for the U.S. has been evacuating U.S. citizens, those that worked for the U.S., and at-risk Afghans. To achieve this, the U.S. has created priority 1 (P1) and priority 2 (P2) refugee programs meant to fast-track the visa process for Afghans who have worked for the U.S. government, a U.S. media organization, or a nongovernmental organization in Afghanistan. However, some refugees have waited more than a year for the U.S. to process their application. In fact, data suggests that the average Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicant is likely to wait more than four years for approval.
Since July 20, 2022, the application process has been streamlined, allowing some applicants to complete the process. However, the refugee must then seek a visa interview in a third-party country, which can take up to 14 to 18 months.
As the number of applicants increased, Afghan refugees hoped President Joe Biden's election would expedite the application process. However, despite U.S. efforts, the administration has been unable to keep its promises as complex political and security challenges significantly hinder the application process.
A Cry for Help
Amidst everything happening in Afghanistan, the UN has also declared that the Taliban is violating human rights law and that its restrictions on women’s rights may be a crime against humanity. “It is imperative that the UN Security Council halts the steep decline in women and girls’ rights in the country,” Yamini Mishra said, “The world watches as the Taliban systematically decimate women’s rights through numerous discriminatory restrictions rolled out by them in quick succession over the last few months.”
The situation has put the UN increasingly in the spotlight, and activists are waiting and watching to see how they will respond to Afghanistan’s human rights violations. Meanwhile, Afghan refugees are crying out to the U.S. to process their visas. The question is whether the world will stand by and watch what the Taliban is doing in Afghanistan or act upon their promises.
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