3 things to know about getting Afghan refugees to safety
If you want to put the news in deeper context, here are quick explanations and further reading recommendations for terms being used in the discussion about evacuating and resettling refugees from Afghanistan.
1. The goal is 'safe and orderly departure' - here's what that means.
In the news: On 15th August 2021, soon after Taliban forces entered Kabul, dozens of states issued a joint statement calling for ‘safe and orderly departure’ from Afghanistan including for Afghan nationals who wish to leave. The statement urged that ‘roads, airports and border crossings must remain open’. In Resolution 2593 (2021), of 30 August 2021, the United Nations Security Council reiterated the importance of 'the safe, secure, and orderly departure from Afghanistan of Afghans and all foreign nationals'.
What to know: Orderly departure of civilians requires some level of agreement between foreign governments and authorities in the country of origin. In the two weeks following 15th August, United States forces controlled the international airport in Kabul and negotiated with the Taliban so that foreign governments could continue evacuating people out of the country.
Non-government organisations such as Refugees International, the World Refugee and Migration Council, and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) have called for a formal and longer-term orderly departure program to be established in Afghanistan, so that Afghan nationals who need to leave can continue to do so. The most well-known example is the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) from Vietnam, through which more than half a million Vietnamese settled in the United States, and many thousands in other countries, between 1979 and the mid-1990s.
In the United States context, former senior U.S government officials have also called for the Biden administration to use humanitarian parole as a ‘critical tool’ to facilitate departure for Afghan nationals, so as 'to secure the rescue of Afghans and to provide resettlement in the United States and other countries, as part of an international responsibility-sharing effort'. Parole authority is a discretionary mechanism that the executive can use to temporarily admit people to the United States in certain humanitarian circumstances, after which individuals may undertake ‘further processing through available statutory or administrative mechanisms’.
Orderly departure programs may also be known as ‘protected entry procedures’ or ‘in-country programs’.
As recommended in the Kaldor Centre’s Policy Brief no. 8, orderly departure programs should comply with the following criteria:
• Complement, and be additional to, other avenues to protection (such as the right to seek asylum directly through national asylum procedures, and existing annual resettlement programs)
• Be based on a multi-year commitment by States, to provide predictability for refugees, partner organisations and support services in the destination country to plan for the housing, support services, educational and employment needs of refugees.
• Have transparent and flexible application criteria and processes, to help asylum seekers to make an informed decision about whether they can apply and safely wait for their application to be finalised.
What to read: Claire Higgins, Safe Journeys, Sound Policy: expanding protected entry for refugees, Policy Brief no. 8, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law (November 2019) or for a quick overview see the Kaldor Centre's Factsheet and Research Brief on protected entry procedures.
2. What are 'safe corridors'?
In the news: Two kinds of safe corridors have been proposed by refugee advocates. In a letter to United States President Joe Biden on 16 August, the President of Refugees International, Eric Schwartz, called for safe corridors to be established over land routes into neighbouring countries for those Afghans who are unable to depart by air. This call has been echoed by the World Refugee and Migration Council. Meanwhile in Europe, faith-based organisation the Community of Sant'Egidio has called on European governments to support the establishment of 'humanitarian corridors' for individuals who have already fled Afghanistan, which would provide for their safe transfer and resettlement into Europe.
What to know: As noted in the Kaldor Centre's Policy Brief no. 5,
• A safe land corridor 'refers either to a route out of the conflict for civilians and non-fighters, or, in the midst of conflict, a way to move around (such as a corridor that allows people to go to a market once a week or to reach a hospital from a village)'.
• Safe corridors ‘are only as safe as the parties to the conflict allow them to be’, and thus while such corridors can never guarantee safety, ‘they may be the best that is available’ in certain circumstances.
As noted in the Kaldor Centre's Policy Brief no. 8,
• Humanitarian corridors into Europe have been operated by faith-based organisations in conjunction with governments in Italy, France and Belgium. These corridors have provided protected entry for asylum seekers from designated countries (such as Syria, Iraq and Eritrea). Security and other visa checks have been conducted while individuals are still within a country of first asylum. Individuals then lodge protection claims on arrival into Europe, and their integration into the destination country is supported by community groups.
What to read: the Kaldor Centre's Policy Brief no. 5 provides an expert analysis of the practical and international legal aspects of safe land corridors. See further: Geoff Gilbert and Anna Magdalena Rusch, Creating safe zones and safe corridors in conflict situations: Providing protection at home or preventing the search for asylum? Policy Brief no. 5, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law (June 2017). The Kaldor Centre's Policy Brief no. 8 provides a detailed overview of humanitarian corridors in Europe. See further: Claire Higgins, Safe Journeys, Sound Policy: expanding protected entry for refugees, Policy Brief no. 8, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law (November 2019).
3. What does resettlement through a special humanitarian intake mean?
In the news: Following the events of 15th August 2021, the Government of Canada announced that it will expand its resettlement program to take an additional 20,000 Afghan refugees.
Refugee advocates have urged the Australian government to do the same, and to offer a special intake of Afghan refugees that is additional to the existing refugee and humanitarian resettlement program of 13,750 places that is already planned for 2021-22. As at 6 September 2021, the Australian government has only announced that it will allocate 3,000 places within the planned program for 2021-22, and reports indicate it may do so again in coming years, but this will not be an additional special intake. Advocates have pointed to the special humanitarian intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees that was announced by the Australian government in 2015, arguing that Australia could do the same today.
What to know: Resettlement is the process of transferring a refugee or other person in humanitarian need from a country where they have initially sought protection to a country that will provide them with permanent residence. In 2020, 25 countries around the world worked with UNHCR to provide resettlement places for refugees. A special humanitarian intake is usually a one-off arrangement, made in addition to a state's existing commitment to resettle refugees.
As recommended in the Kaldor Centre’s Policy Brief no. 7,
• Special humanitarian intakes should provide a pathway to permanent, durable solutions for the refugees concerned.
• Special humanitarian intakes must be undertaken in consultation and cooperation with UNHCR.
• Once a decision has been taken to implement a special humanitarian intake, selection of individuals for resettlement from within the target population should focus on identifying refugees with the greatest protection needs.
What to read: Tamara Wood and Claire Higgins, Special humanitarian intakes: Enhancing protection through targeted refugee resettlement, Policy Brief no. 7, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law (December 2018).