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COVID-19 and Afghan Refugees: No Good Options

Millions of refugees were already in fragile situations before the pandemic began. Now with COVID-19 complicating access to healthcare and slowing the refugee and asylee pipelines to a trickle, displaced people face even more difficulties. Refugees and asylees understand the advent of COVID-19 increases their risk dramatically, both on the health front and related to their chances of accessing a secure living environment. Further, they are aware that common public health guidelines like social distancing and hand washing are not possible in crowded camps with limited facilities. Given the stark realities of being amongst the forced displaced during COVID-19, what options do refugees have, if any, and how can governments support them? Dina Dajani, Deputy Director of the Center for Global Policy’s Displacement and Migration Program, speaks with Devon Cone, Senior Advocate for Women and Girls at Refugees International, about these issues as they relate to refugees from Afghanistan.

Cone points out that Afghan refugees are the second largest refugee population in the world and one of the largest protracted refugee populations – refugees that have been displaced for a very long time. Afghan refugees have landed in many countries, with the majority in Iran and Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan are experiencing ongoing challenges containing the spread. Similar to refugee camps the world over, the camps in Iran and Pakistan have shortages of resources and space, leaving vulnerable Afghan refugees with limited access to health services. Facing ever increasing vulnerabilities in these camps, many Afghan refugees are choosing to leave camps to return to Afghanistan.  However, this doesn’t count as repatriation, Cone says, which means people returning voluntarily and to a safe environment where they will not be persecuted. That is not the case in Afghanistan, which is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, she says.

Alternatively, the refugee camps on the Greek Islands are in relatively good shape in that there have not been any reported cases of COVID-19 in the camps yet, Cone says. However, there are still 40,000 people in overcrowded camps that lack sewage and running water and have inadequate healthcare. And because of restrictions created by the response to the pandemic, asylum seekers’ cases are not moving at all, so they are waiting in conditions that are ripe for an outbreak of COVID-19.

Cone says that to improve the situation for Afghan refugees, the United States could ensure that the assistance it gives other countries includes refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented refugees. She points out that there is a special visa program that focuses on Afghans who worked with the United States in support of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, and because of those actions it is no longer safe for them to be in their home country. She also says that while resettlement is likely to resume once COVID-19 travel restrictions ease up, the United States should allow more Afghan refugees into the country under its annual presidential determination.

Full Transcript

Dina Dajani: Hi, my name is Dina Dajani, and welcome to another episode of the Center for Global Policy’s podcast series called The Lodestar. This episode is being developed and produced in conjunction with Refugees International. And Devon Cone is here with me on the line today Devon, thanks for talking to me today.

Devon Cone: Thanks, Dina, for having me.

DD: Thank you. Devon Cone is the senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International. Prior to joining Refugees International, Devon was the director of protection programs at HIAS. She’s also worked for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in a bunch of countries: Lebanon, Uganda, Egypt, and Kenya, as well as for a variety of NGOs providing services to refugees. She’s also worked for the State Department, where in 2015 she conducted an independent evaluation of the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program, which is responsible for choosing, vetting, and resettling refugees to the United States. This podcast series will consider the plight of various refugee populations during this current COVID pandemic. To start out with in this podcast, we will be looking at the situation with refugees from Afghanistan. So what do we know now? We know that the coronavirus crisis has affected every migrant pathway in the world. For the world’s most vulnerable refugees and asylees, this has profound effects. The systems which managed the movement of refugees and asylees from their temporary and crowded camps have stalled since the coronavirus outbreak, leaving those poised for resettlement stuck in pipelines with no obvious end in sight. Meanwhile, immigrant and asylees-centered policies the world over are in flux as nations respond to their domestic economic crises. Border controls have increased and the policies which govern entrance have become more rigid. For refugees and asylees, adding the global pandemic to their pre-existing situation has been catastrophic as humanitarian agencies face increasing challenges in the delivery of critical aid and basic services, and international travel continues to stall. Refugees and asylees aware of the virus and of the effect it’s having on systems that directly affect their futures are also aware of the sobering fact that the virus poses multiple risks. The solutions and behaviors touted by public health officials — social distancing hand-washing — are not possible in overcrowded camps with shared public facilities. These populations have heard this messaging and realize that the coronavirus threat has made their situations even more tenuous, increasing their vulnerability to longer camp stay times and increased health burdens. Given that this is the case, what options are there out there for refugees, and how will change is an asylee policy of destination countries changed the resettlement landscape? What’s going to happen to forced migrants and those with limited other options? So in this podcast we’re going to present a case study of the current situation of refugees and asylees from Afghanistan. Afghan refugees are scattered in many countries. And Devon is going to give us an update on that situation and this population and some of the specific challenges they’re facing. So without further ado, Devon, let’s talk about this group. What’s the current situation with Afghan refugees and where are they, and what numbers and what’s going on with them right now?

DC: Great. Thanks, Dina. Yeah, I think that it’s really important to talk about Afghan refugees for a whole host of reasons. But one of the main reasons why it’s important to take note of the situation and the plight of Afghan refugees is that they are the second largest refugee population in the world. And they represent one of the largest protracted refugee populations. So protracted refugee population means a refugee population that that has been in the situation of being refugees for a very long time, and certainly Afghans fit that criteria. There have been Afghan refugees in large numbers, on and off, for really 40 years. And so, you know, right now, they really have limited — very limited options for safety, and I’m going to get into a little bit more but repatriation, meaning returning to Afghanistan once they have left, is not an option for most, given the safety and security issues. Local integration is restricted in many places, so where Afghan refugees have — where Afghans have become refugees or crossed international border, the countries that they are living in often have many restrictions on them so they can’t fully integrate. And then finally resettlement — the act of selecting and moving and relocating the most vulnerable refugees to a third country — really represents a very tiny minority, and it’s really a limited option as well. So I think it’s also important to note that two-thirds of the world’s refugees come from just five countries. So Syria is number one right now, and then Afghanistan being number two, followed by South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia, but Afghans really have been on the move and forced to flee for decades. It started with 400,000 people fleeing the violence of a communist-led government crossing over into Pakistan, then the Soviet invasion and by 1980 — I’m just giving you a little history, if that’s okay —

DD: Wonderful.

DC: Great. Yeah, by 1980 there are more than 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. And of course that makes sense given, the fact that Pakistan is a neighboring country. Continuing on, by 1985, there were more than 5 million refugees in Pakistan and neighboring Iran, and then since 1985, basically Afghans have been forced to move many times. Some families have moved several times within their lifetime. So they have become refugees, they have been returned to Afghanistan then become refugees again. Or, there’s more than 2million people within Afghanistan that are forcibly displaced. So that is because of decades of conflict and, in some cases, there are there have been some severe climate-related shocks that have led to displacement which is a whole other issue, but certainly given the conflicts that have continued really unabated, and changed but continued for almost four decades, Afghan refugees are a really, really important group. But also a really marginalized group. So currently there’s more than 2.6 million registered refugees from Afghanistan. And like I said, it’s the second highest number after Syria. Then there’s many more who haven’t registered officially or who are currently asylum seekers. So they’ve registered to become a refugee but their cases are being decided. And finally the places where most of these Afghan refugees who have crossed borders are — start with Pakistan. So Pakistan as of 2018 hosted largest Afghan refugee population. So there was almost 1.5 million people at the end of 2018. Second is Iran. So Iran reported hosting about 950,000 Afghan refugees. And then following that, you know, some European countries have Afghans — Greece, where I have done my most recent research, certainly has Afghan refugees, but what’s important to note I think, as we listen or as people listen to this podcast, is that well, we think a lot about the U.S.’s response to Afghan refugees, European policies that affect Afghans, Turkey and their policies. What’s really important to note is that that is not where the majority of Afghans are. By 2018 over 88 percent of Afghan refugees were hosted by neighboring Pakistan, Iran — again, for obvious reasons, given the fact that they’re neighboring countries.

DD: Mmm-hmm. So fast forward to what’s happening to them now amidst coronavirus. They — they are scattered throughout these various countries, and they’re really, you know, they’re waiting. There’s a lot of waiting involved, I know that. But what’s kind of the general consensus amongst the countries that they’re currently residing in whether it be temporary or otherwise, you know — what are those countries saying in terms of their abilities to actually access, you know, what citizens can access?

DC: Sure. Well, that’s a challenge we’re seeing worldwide is that really a lot of countries are turning inward again, which — which makes sense in some — in some ways. But we don’t, you know, we don’t see that benefiting refugees or asylum seekers of course, or even being — creating a situation which upheld their rights. So many countries are placing travel restrictions, you know, creating information campaigns, but not necessarily including refugees and asylum seekers, so it depends on the country as to what they’re doing, but certainly as of today, I think it’s important to talk about what’s going on in relation to COVID-19 in countries where many Afghan refugees are. So in Turkey, for example, there’s as of today, really, there’s 112,000 confirmed cases and 2,900 deaths. Iran, as we know, has been a real hot spot for weeks now, with 91,472 cases and 5,806 deaths, and in Pakistan. almost 14,000 confirmed cases and almost 300 deaths. And then in Afghanistan itself, there have been 1,700 confirmed cases and 57 deaths. So that’s a lot of numbers, but what’s important to note there is that the countries that are hosting Afghan refugees are certainly having challenges themselves in preventing outbreaks of COVID-19 and its spread. And so what we know, for example in Iran, where there are Afghan refugees that have lived there for decades, what we know is that these Afghan refugees, whether they have the proper documentation and are registered and are there in a legal capacity or whether they aren’t, they’re having — they’re very much challenged in accessing healthcare. So the Iranian government and Iranian public hospitals, we are being told by reporters and Afghans that are actually leaving Iran that they are having trouble accessing the healthcare system, they’re having trouble accessing treatment, and although Afghanistan really has no capacity, or very little capacity, to deal with coronavirus as well, many Afghans are choosing to leave and return to Afghanistan rather than stay in Iran where the health services are stretched and they feel discrimination in being able to access those health care services. So yeah, I mean, I think that it’s really important to note that, you know, while on the one hand Afghans have faced difficulties as refugees for a long time, adding coronavirus and COVID-19 and the restrictions that come with that but also the lack of healthcare that many of them — many Afghan refugees face is really just added — added problems that add to their challenges in host countries.

DD: You were on the Greek islands recently, pre-COVID-19, to assess the situation with the asylees there many of whom are from Afghanistan. What specifically is their situation there, and how has Greek Asylum policy changed since COVID?

DC: Yeah. Thanks for asking. You know, when we first started seeing news reports of large numbers of asylum seekers traveling to Greece, particularly on boats from Turkey, many of those in 2015 and 2016 were Syrian refugees. But now as of 2018-19 and 2020, the largest number of arrivals are coming from Afghanistan. So even since January 2020, the sea arrivals from Afghanistan have been 45% of the people arriving. So the islands, which are particularly challenging, and have particular problems in terms of the reception facilities and the ability to adjudicate asylum cases, right now those islands which encompass about five islands where most asylum seekers are hosted, at this point there’s almost 40,000 asylum-seekers there. Another thing that’s interesting to note — so first of all, like I said, a lot of them are Afghan, and what’s important to note and interesting about Greece is that within all of Greece  — not only just on the islands –13% of children that are asylum seekers in Greece are unaccompanied, and of those unaccompanied minors, most of them are from Afghanistan. So there’s a lot of teenage boys in particular from Afghanistan that are unaccompanied and have even additional protection risks. But you know, the islands have about 40,000 people in really overcrowded camps, lacking sewage and running water and enough latrines and really, healthcare. So there’s a lot of kind of issues that have been brought up by NGOs and human rights advocates and even government officials themselves for, to be quite honest, years. Now, the camps are extra crowded, and for Afghans, they have arrived in the last year — those that have arrived recently, and like you said are waiting. They’re waiting for their Asylum cases to be decided. They’re waiting for restrictions to be lifted because of COVID-19 — you know, once that that moves, they move into another phase — and so they’re really waiting for a lot of decisions to be made. But what has been done and what has changed when it comes to asylum policy given COVID-19, is that the Greek asylum services, first of all they stopped receiving new applications on March 1, and that was for political reasons and other reasons as it relates to Turkey — that was not because of COVID-19. But because of COVID-19, while they were supposed to open up and start receiving asylum applications again, the Greek asylum services have closed and suspended their operations first until April and then now it’s been extended until May 10. So what that means, you know, in practicality, is that the asylum seekers that are waiting on the islands in situations and conditions that really are ripe for an outbreak of coronavirus and a spread of coronavirus. — those asylum seekers, their cases are not moving right now. Their cases are not moving at all. They’re not able to lodge appeals. They’re not able to have their asylum interviews. So nothing is moving as of now on current asylum cases, and then certainly they’re not accepting new asylum applications. So yeah, they’re in quite a limbo mode and what is really happening on the islands in particular is that NGOs and government officials are trying to increase water capacity and provide soap and engage in information campaigns to prepare the asylum seekers there for possible outbreaks or to prevent them from even happening at all because right now fortunately, given all the other problems I always talk about, and I often focus on, thankfully there are no reported confirmed cases on the island refugee camps in Greece, but certainly we want to keep it that way.

DD: Well, thanks. So they really are just waiting for the system to open up again.

DC: Yeah, and while they’re waiting they have limits like we all do, but they have limits on their abilities to enter and exit the camps. There’s only supposed to be one family member that exits the camps at a time. They have restrictions on how many people so a hundred per hour at one point in Moria refugee camp. So, you know, the public health officials and the local government officials are working together with actually the asylum seekers to enforce some of these restrictions. And so far, you know, from what I understand it’s going okay, but the challenge will be to keep up this momentum so that no cases are there. Although, as you can see from the news, for those of you who are following it, there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst the refugee population in on the mainland of Greece. So that’s very concerning.

DD: So that’s I think that’s quite impressive if they actually are managing to implement, you know, the public health messaging that we all hear — you know, the social distancing and the hand washing and all that — in Greece. Are they are they able to do that similarly at camps and Iran and Pakistan?

DC: Well, I wouldn’t say so. I mean these camps again have limited capacities for — limited capacity to socially distance or wash hands anyway, even when there wasn’t the coronavirus. I mean people are in crowded, crowded situations. They are living in not only camps but urban areas where it’s densely populated, people are living in abandoned buildings, half-finished buildings, you know in situations where they’re sharing bathroom facilities, like you had mentioned, and — and sharing a lot of their facilities that certainly, you know, makes it very difficult to — to practice these public health guidelines. I will say that in the Greek refugee camps, especially on the islands — while I would say that it’s great there are no cases, of course that isn’t to say that they’ve been able to follow all these guidelines. And by that, I mean socially distancing is still hard washing, hand-washing frequently is still difficult. So while fortunately, there are no cases yet, there also needs to be an increase of testing, and we know that from Afghanistan itself. So as I mentioned even in Afghanistan, there have only been reported 57 deaths in the entire country and only 1,700 confirmed cases. Now that’s not because they don’t have more cases than that, but they have very limited testing capacity. And so similarly in some of these camps, testing perhaps hasn’t happened as well. So I think the real challenge as I talk to people working on the ground in the Greek refugee camps, the real challenge is to keep up the momentum while there are no cases to make sure that there are no or few cases in the future and to prepare for potential outbreaks in the future once restrictions are lifted a bit. Because also in the Greek refugee camps there’s a lot of NGO volunteers, and right now those volunteers from other parts of Europe are unable to travel to the Greek Islands and unable to travel to Greece give because of travel restrictions. But once those travel restrictions open up and ease up a little bit, it’s very possible that people can bring COVID-19 to the camps themselves and, and that they put, you know asylum seekers at risk. So I think yeah, I mean the public health officials and people working on the front lines in the Greek refugee camps say that they’re really trying to build, you know, basic healthcare facilities, even outside and around the camps so that when and if there is COVID-19, they can properly treat it. So, so yeah, but I think that the camps and other countries as well have very — really, really difficult challenges in being able to follow these public health guidelines. And with restrictions also come restrictions in aid and service delivery. Some of these camps and places really rely on foreign aid and international aid to help provide them with basic food and necessary humanitarian aid, and with some of the travel restrictions as well some of those supply chains are cut off and it makes it even more difficult for them to really survive with or without COVID-19 or coronavirus.

DD: Right. So let’s compare that situation in Greece with what’s going on with the populations in Pakistan and Iran, where there are many more cases and limited healthcare infrastructure. Can you talk to us a little bit about what’s going on in those cases?

DC: Sure. In Pakistan in particular, as of April 9, the Afghan government actually requested the Pakistani authorities to open up their border crossings to allow Afghans who had become stranded after Pakistan shut its borders to return home. So the authorities said that they would allow a thousand people per day, but actually in fact 20,000 between April 7 and 9, around that time — within two days about 20,000 are reported to have crossed at one border crossing. So basically while, you know, Pakistan — the Pakistani government and Afghan government are trying to negotiate border crossings and screenings and all that, it doesn’t seem like its really happening. But people are leaving Pakistan as well, given, you know Afghans are leaving Pakistan as well, given the situation, but like I said when they return to Afghanistan it’s difficult for them to integrate anyway, and then there’s very limited capacity for Afghanistan to prevent and treat COVID-19. In fact, just a couple weeks ago — and I’m not sure if it’s changed — but just a couple weeks ago there were only 12 ventilators in the entire country of Afghanistan. And also there’s reports that no one actually knows how to use them. So the training is not there. So, so in the last few weeks given — given these massive border crossings and people crossing the border from Pakistan back into Afghanistan, and also from Iran back into Afghanistan, the World Health Organization, other countries are trying to increase the capacity of Afghanistan to deal with COVID-19 because inevitably, people that are crossing have it, are spreading it, and are making the situation very problematic in Afghanistan, which as I said is already facing conflict that just continues. And so yeah, testing is being sent to Afghanistan and other things, but basically there are a lot of Afghans leaving Pakistan, returning to Afghanistan and also again from Iran. There’s a couple reasons why Afghans are returning to Afghanistan from Iran one being even pre-COVID-19 the U.S. sanctions on Iran have really squeeze the economy in a way that most Afghans were working in formal jobs and they said the jobs just were drying up. They didn’t have work and without work, there was no reason for them to stay in Iran, especially because they hoped that things would be safer in Afghanistan than when they perhaps left. So many Afghans were returning to Afghanistan from Iran anyway, and now with COVID-19 as I said there was there a lot of reports that Afghans just can’t access treatment, they can’t access services, they can’t access hospital care, healthcare, and they’re discriminated against in many ways, but certainly in the realm of receiving healthcare. So they don’t feel safe in Iran and like, you know, like this podcast is really demonstrating, I think Afghan — displaced Afghans really have very limited choices and not very good choices.

DD: Yeah. I think it’s important to underline here the  — just the fact that you know, they have no good choices, right? Like you’re the choices are between staying in a place that’s very compromised, where they’re very vulnerable, or going to another place where that’s likely to also be the case. So, you know, I think it’s — I think it’s really interesting to see the choices that they’re making here in the, in this situation where it’s not clear that any location is going to provide them with more security than they had at the previous location.

DC: Right. Well, I think also, you know, we are talking about COVID-19 which certainly has such a worldwide impact both on the health of people but also on the economic systems in which you know refugees are living in as well, and particularly Afghans, like we talked about in both Iran and Pakistan. But I also think that it’s important to recognize how unsafe Afghanistan really is, so certainly for asylum seekers, you know in Greece, still, when as of, you know, at the end of last year and early this year when the asylum services were operational, more than 70% of Afghan asylum seekers were receiving asylum and being granted asylum because of the situation in Afghanistan, and many of them hadn’t been to Afghanistan in a long time or had been, most of which had been living in Iran for you know years, if not decades. But the Greek asylum services was able to, you know, are able to understand and European asylum support office understands that Afghanistan is not a safe place. Actually, in fact, 2018 the U.N. assistance mission in Afghanistan documented the highest ever recorded civilian deaths. There were nearly 11,000 casualties — 3,800 deaths and anyway upwards of 8,000 injuries. So there’s current displacement happening and civilian deaths are very high. in June 2019, The Institute for Peace and Economics said that Afghanistan is the world’s least peaceful country, replacing Syria. So all of this stuff is really important because again, it highlights that while there are tens of thousands of people leaving Pakistan, leaving Iran, returning to Afghanistan some leaving Iran and traveling to Europe through Turkey, some going to Turkey and staying there, really the rights are very limited for refugees and asylum seekers in these neighboring countries. The capacity to host them and then finally, you know, with a lot of the world really suspended and in limbo because of coronavirus, you know, these refugees and asylum seekers are waiting for — for safety in some of these countries but also, you know, really shouldn’t be going back and certainly shouldn’t be sent back. Turkey is a real example of that where there’s, you know, about 200,000, maybe a little less Afghan asylum seekers and refugees there. But Turkey has been known to deport them to Afghanistan. And so, you know, it’s again, it just underscores the issues that Afghan refugees face because there’s really very few options for them, and that was both before COVID-19, but certainly now. I mean, there’s so much information about how — I looked up a lot of information — and I certainly have talked to any of my contacts just who really highlight the fact that Afghanistan is not getting safer. It is really getting more dangerous as it relates to conflict and then again, of course, compounding that the limited capacity to deal with this pandemic that, you know, is certainly rampant in Iran and obviously is in Afghanistan as well.

DD: Yeah. Well, yeah, thanks for all that Devon and just to kind of round this up. Let me just ask, you know, at the outset of at the beginning of this podcast we were kind of touching on what some solutions are for refugees, you know — we touched on repatriation and resettlement. And essentially what’s happening here is the Afghans are repatriating themselves, but it’s not a model that is like a solutions-oriented one, right? Is that correct? Would you like agree with that — with that synopsis of the situation? Because this is not what — while it, while it, you know technically might meet the definitions of repatriation, it’s not a durable solution.

DC: No again, I mean repatriation as a durable solution is one in which people return voluntarily and what they returned to is a safe environment where they will not be persecuted or be, you know, the victims of violence and conflict. That is not the case in related to people returning to Afghanistan from these neighboring countries. Rather than being voluntary and safe, it seems to be more again two bad options, and — and making decisions as to which bad option to choose, and so I wouldn’t say it’s voluntary. Again, I mean, the tens of thousands of Afghans returning from Iran to Afghanistan. So many of those reported that the reason why they’ve left is both discrimination and the healthcare system in Iran, but also that they don’t have jobs, and so certainly they need to support themselves. Now Afghanistan itself is facing a humanitarian crisis, and, and you know, why Afghanistan is certainly in conflict and has a lack of capacity to deal with COVID-19, it also is a humanitarian crisis where I think upwards of 9 million people are food insecure or need humanitarian assistance. And so, you know, returning Afghans are going to have difficulty integrating back into Afghanistan as well, especially if they’ve been gone for long periods of time and their social structures, you know have changed. So yeah, I think that that’s not a durable solution. When it comes to solutions, that’s always the hard part, too.

DD: Yeah, is there anything that you would recommend for policymakers in this area and help alleviate some of this humanitarian crisis?

DC: Well, I think for policymakers ensuring that assistance that we certainly, as the United States, are still giving to various countries, ensuring that assistance includes refugees and asylum seekers and undocumented refugees. I mean, there’s a lot of Afghans that for various reasons are not registered as refugees or even as asylum seekers, and part of that is that they don’t have the correct documentation. You know, I met with plenty of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Greece who, you know, don’t have a birth certificate, don’t have the things that — that are often required to, to really prove identity and get registration in the way that most countries require. And so I think that first of all, not deporting anybody at the moment, I think, is important, especially to a place like Afghanistan, including — for policymakers, I think, as they give aid to these countries, they need to have a stipulation that with that aid also comes the inclusion, like I said, of all of these people because it’s — it’s certainly, you know, important for the refugees and asylum seekers and, you know, in upholding their rights, but also it’s important for the public health of the countries that are hosting them. So I think we can do more in terms of aid and providing aid that the requires these populations to be included in accessing healthcare, in being part of information campaigns, and having, you know, in having safe and dignified and hygienic accommodation. And all these things are hard because again, you know, two-thirds of these asylum seekers and refugees are in Afghan refugees are in Pakistan and Iran. I mean, they do have limited capacity, but I think that’s important. I also think for policymakers — I’m not going to get into sanctions of Iran, but certainly somehow, you know, helping create a situation where Iran has greater capacity to respond to COVID-19 amongst their own population, but also amongst the huge population of Afghan refugees of which, you know, it’s still a huge population despite people returning home. But I think that, you know, something needs to be done there. People making — you know policymakers and decision makers on U.S.-Iran relations need to work on that. And then finally, I think that, you know, resettlement is only as I mentioned  — is only available for a very small number of refugees and always has been that way, but currently there’s two issues: one, resettlement worldwide has halted the travel of refugees being resettled from one country to another because of COVID-19, but obviously that you know, we hope things do change and we expect that things will change, hopefully sooner rather than later, and that once restrictions —  travel restrictions — do ease up that resettlement will resume. But I think number two, so the one issue is that resettlement is suspended but the second issue is that the U.S. government, as you know, many of us who work in this field know, has really restricted resettlement to be a very low number. There’s a presidential determination every year, and this year’s presidential determination is 18,000 individuals, which amongst a refugee population of more than 25 million is just not enough. So I think that needs to change immediately so that when travel does resume these refugees that are the most vulnerable of all nationalities, but certainly of Afghans as well, and particularly there’s a special immigrant visa program that focuses on Afghans who have worked with the U.S. government and U.S. military to support our operations there. Because they have supported our operations there, they are now at risk and had to leave Afghanistan. Those people — amongst others as well, other Afghans as well, should be able to access safety and access the United States in an organized fashion, which really is resettlement. And so I think that that clearly needs to change and, you know, I — to be quite honest I think that’s not likely with this administration. But as you know, the presidential determination is set at the end of September every year, and whether we continue to have this Administration or a new one, that — I mean that presidential determination needs to have a much higher quota for resettlement in order to really give at least some Afghan refugees a better option than all of these countries I’m talking about that place restrictions on Afghans and, and then also Afghanistan itself, which refugees really should not be forced certainly ever to return to, but also shouldn’t be compelled to because their options are so limited.

DD: Great. Well, Devon, thank you so much for talking to me about this this important issue today. And I think that, you know, we could go on forever about this. You know, this this area is so multidisciplinary, bringing in issues of economics and national sovereignty and immigration and all sorts of different kinds of policy much the actual physical complications of just actually keeping these folks, you know, alive and kicking and ready to, you know, ready to move when there is some kind of solution presented. So it’s a really complicated area, and I want to thank you so much for talking to me about it because I think that you really managed to hit on some of the really big challenges that — that this group faces and challenges that are going to be enduring an ongoing and how, really how, what our current options are for of these durable solutions are just so limited, especially now that we have this added health burden foisted upon us and all of our systems and processes that go along with refugee support and resettlement.

DC: Right. Well, thank you for letting me talk about these things because certainly as you said, it’s complicated. There’s a lot of interweaving parts and — and different dynamics at play, which is certainly interesting. But at the end of the day there are millions of Afghan refugees and displaced people that are really struggling and, like you said, these — these issues have — these issues were there before COVID-19 and they’ll continue to be there after, and so I think we as policymakers and decision makers need to really think about the long-term solutions. So thanks a lot for letting me give some of this information that hopefully is both helpful and informative.

DD: Yes. But Devon, we’ll be talking again soon, because this is the first podcast in the series and so stay tuned. Look at our website at the Center for Global Policy. You’ll see our podcast posted there under The Lodestar. Again, Devon Cone from Refugees International. Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat, and I look forward to our future conversations.

DC: Thanks, Dina.