The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has stoked a massive exodus of Afghans, who have been desperately trying to flee the country to escape the spiralling violence perpetrated by the fundamentalist group. But what has raised eyebrows is the fact that how Muslim countries have shut doors on the Muslim refugees from Afghanistan. Barring Iran, all other major Muslim nations have shied away from accepting them.
Iran, a Shia-dominated country, already hosts 3.38 million refugees from Afghanistan, which is a Sunni-dominated country, data from the UN Refugee Agency or the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed. Of the 3.38 million, 7,80,000 are documented refugees, while 2 million are undocumented and 600,000 are Afghan-passport holders.
Iran’s three provinces bordering Afghanistan have set up emergency tents to host Afghan refugees till conditions in Afghanistan turn better. Iran is the only big Islamic country that has aligned with the official line taken by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Other big members of the OIC, including Pakistan, which hosts one of the largest numbers of Afghan refugees, have simply refused to accept any more refugees this time.
The OIC had held an emergency meeting on Sunday on the Afghanistan crisis during which the crux of the discussion was safe evacuation of civilians. The OIC statement after the meeting stated, “The meeting underscored cooperation in facilitating safe evacuation operations and the need to provide safe corridors for that.”
The OIC represents 57 Muslim countries across 4 continents and calls itself the collective voice of the Muslim world. However, quite a few Muslim nations have chosen not to pay heed to this collective voice at a time when it mattered the most — with humanitarian issues involved after the Taliban’s repressive regime between 1996 and 2001 that made the country a hub of terror with no value for the lives of women and civilians.
Why Pakistan Has Been Reluctant to Take in Refugees
As per the UNHCR database, Pakistan has 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, while the total number, including undocumented refugees, could be around 3 million. The official response of Pakistan this time has been to shut the border as remarked by both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, saying “we can’t take more”.
The real reason, however, is that Pakistan has been the main force to push the Taliban rapidly to take over most of Afghanistan by providing them with arms, ammunition, training and funding. It is also said that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, is very close to the Taliban and ISI chief Hameed Faiz was recently seen in Afghanistan meeting top Taliban leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, touted to be the next Afghanistan President.
Pakistan’s larger interest in Afghanistan requires a Taliban rule like in the 1990s. With the Taliban back in power corridors means Pakistan too is back to rule Afghanistan once again. And not accepting anymore Afghan refugees may be the first step in that direction. Pakistan is also expected to play a key role in the formation of the next government in Afghanistan.
Saudi silent, UAE only allowed refugees to use it as a travel corridor
Along with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were two other countries that had recognised the Taliban government in the 1990s. The OIC is led by Saudi Arabia, but the country has been silent on whether it will open its doors for the Muslim refugees of Afghanistan. It has, in fact, encouraged the Taliban to take over. Its official statement said, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hopes that the Taliban movement and all Afghan parties will work to preserve security, stability, lives and property, and at the same time, affirms its support for the Afghan people and the choices they make without any interference.”
The OIC statement, however, specifically mentions that “civilians wishing to leave Afghanistan must be allowed to do that”.
The UAE has adopted a similar move. The OIC’s statement talks about “the necessity to protect and respect the right to life, security, and dignity of the people of Afghanistan in compliance with the tolerant Islamic principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)” but the UAE, a rich Muslim nation like Saudi Arabia, has agreed only to allow 5,000 Afghan refugees to use it as a travel corridor to reach a third country, and that too on US’ request. The Afghan refugees can stay for 10 days in the UAE.
Protecting secular social fabric?
Bahrain also says that Afghan refugees can use its transit facilities, but is largely silent on the Afghan refugee crisis hoping “that all parties will commit to stabilising the internal situation and to protecting the lives of civilians and the rule of law”.
Turkey — which wants to increases its influence in the Muslim world and in the OIC, in particular, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for re-establishment of Caliphate in Turkey to use it as a tool to lead the Islamic world — is simply not ready to accept Afghan refugees. For Erdogan, Afghan refugees are not Muslim brethren, but a burden to be ignored and his country is even building up a wall on Iran’s border to stop the influx of refugees.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, is against providing even temporary refuge to Afghan refugees. It has cited the influx of Rohinyas to defend its decision. The US requested Bangladesh to provide temporary shelter to the refugees, but the country emphatically stated that it is already overburdened with Rohingya refugees and, therefore, can’t allow Afghan refugees. According to the UNHCR database, Bangladesh had 8,66,457 Rohingya refugees in 2020.
Similar is the situation of three other Muslim countries from Central Asia sharing border with Afghanistan — Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is not looking forward to hosting Afghan refugees, while Turkmenistan has fortified its border. Tajikistan, in July, had said it would accept 1,00,000 Afghan refugees, but has also alerted its soldiers along the 1400-km-long Tajikistan-Afghanistan border after the Taliban takeover.
These Central Asian nations care for their secular social fabric and believe that Taliban hardliners with fundamentalist religious views and ISIS terrorists could enter as Afghan refugees. They have, hence, decided to keep their borders with Afghanistan shut, accepting only a few. Uzbekistan has even stopped giving visas to Afghan nationals in the last few months.
Some other OIC countries like Albania and Uganda have agreed to give Afghan refugees temporary shelter, but only after a US request. Albania will temporarily host 300 Afghan refugees. while Uganda has taken responsibility for 2,000 Afghan refugees.
While the OIC is worried about “serious concern about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan because of the increased flow of IDPs and refugees due to the current situation in the country”, rich Muslim nations have steered clear from accepting Afghan refugees.
Going by the size of their economy, these countries can very easily shelter people fleeing the Taliban terror — Turkey’s GDP is $720 billion, Saudi Arabia’s is $700 billion, UAE’s is $421 billion, Bangladesh’s is $324 billion and Pakistan’s is $263 billion, as per World Bank figures in current US dollar.