With the shambolic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan earlier this month, thousands of Afghans are now looking to flee the country. Faced with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis of their own making, politicians in the US and Europe are crying crocodile tears over the hardships faced by refugees, while nonetheless abandoning them to their suffering.
The mass displacement of people in Afghanistan didn’t begin with the US withdrawal. Currently, there are around 3.5 million internally displaced people in Afghanistan, and a further 2.5 million who are refugees in other countries as a result of the US occupation. The intensification of the conflict this year alone has made over half a million Afghans homeless. With the increased instability that is set to grip the country, however, this number is set to dramatically increase.
Warfare is just one of the torments forcing Afghans from their homes. The country is currently experiencing a severe drought endangering the lives of over three million people and leaving 14 million people in hunger; a massive economic crisis as capital flees in the wake of the Taliban takeover; and the acute effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with the overwhelming majority of the population completely unable to access vaccine doses. Trapped between war, climate change, famine, and disease, the poor of Afghanistan are experiencing unimaginable suffering, which will only worsen in the coming period, and which is driving millions to seek refuge abroad.
The overwhelming majority of the 2.5 million who have already fled abroad are currently in Iran and Pakistan (in excess of two million). Yet the ruling classes of the wealthy, imperialist countries – some of the very same countries that invaded Afghanistan – apparently have nothing they can give apart from thoughts and prayers. Where they do cast a few crumbs to refugees, they expect to be praised to the heavens for their generosity.
In Britain, for example, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised Afghan refugees a “bespoke scheme” that would be “one of the most generous in our country’s history”. Johnson’s scheme will allow 5,000 Afghan refugees to come to Britain this year. If such generosity from one of the powers that bombed Afghanistan to smithereens is not enough, Johnson has promised to accept a further 15,000... in the coming five years. Of course, any prospective migrant will have to live that long under Taliban terror first. This is nothing more than an empty gesture. It is a drop in the ocean compared to the 6 million and rising who have already been displaced from their homes by these same foreign imperialists. But if we want a real measure of Boris Johnson’s ‘generosity’, it is worth noting that 15,000 Afghan refugees is precisely the number that Britain has deported to the conflict-ridden country since 2008.
What sort of reception will there be for the lucky few that are allowed into fortress Britain? They will struggle to find accommodation and will be given no help by the state. They will be forced into deprived areas, with severe housing shortages and dangerous living conditions. Problems in housing refugees have been ‘solved’ in some cases by placing them in military barracks, with disastrous outcomes for their physical and mental health, such as the recent coronavirus outbreak at one such facility in Kent, where over 200 refugees tested positive.
They will be made to endure inedible food, collapsed ceilings, housing insecurity, hotel rooms filled with cockroaches, and much more besides. As for those who are not prepared to wait five years to be resettled and who instead arrive in Britain illegally, Home Secretary Priti Patel suggested last month that they ought to receive a four year prison sentence. This is the legendary ‘generosity’ of the British ruling class, which treats the victims of its imperialist crimes little better than animals.
While the Tory politicians put on a show about their made-up ‘humanitarian’ credentials, the Tory media have used the new wave of refugees to spread fear, division, and xenophobia throughout society. In Britain, the right-wing Daily Mail has claimed that refugees will be housed in beach resorts and that British families’ holiday plans are being threatened by hotels filled with migrants.
The situation in Europe is no different. Over the last few days, EU leaders have been pushing to maintain their own interests and have demagogically played with the future of refugees in their battles to stay ahead in the polls. Last week, Austrian Minister of the Interior, Karl Nehammer, said that the country would continue deporting people back to Afghanistan for “as long as possible”, while Chancellor Sebastian Kurz emphasised that Austria would not take a single Afghan refugee in the coming period.
Similar sentiments were expressed by the German CDU’s candidate for Chancellor, Armin Laschet, who tweeted in response to the fall of Kabul that “2015 should not repeat itself”. This is a reference to the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war, another humanitarian catastrophe created by imperialist meddling, which was cynically used by right-wing politicians and parties across Europe to whip up xenophobic sentiments. With Germany set to elect its next government in September, Laschet and the right-wing CDU are doubtlessly eager to appeal to supporters of the reactionary Alternative for Germany (AfD), which grew in the years after 2015 by exploiting anti-refugee sentiments.
Meanwhile, the reactionary Bild newspaper attacked the Merkel government for failing to emphasise the importance of “German values” to refugees, and claiming that imperialist intervention in Afghanistan “arrived too late and left too early”.
Meanwhile, the Greek government has begun expanding its 40km fence at the Turkish border in anticipation of a new wave of refugees. A Greek government spokesperson promised they won’t “take lightly any possible escalation of the immigration and refugee issue” and have called upon the EU to back up new anti-immigrant measures.
Even the supposedly ‘moderate’ liberals of European politics have embraced reactionary and anti-refugee rhetoric in response to US withdrawal from Afghanistan. French President Emmanuel Macron told the public in a speech last week that Europe must “protect itself from significant waves of illegal migrants” and spoke of the threat of “irregular migration” as a result of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, adding that France would welcome only those refugees who “share our values”. Macron’s open use of the rhetoric of the far-right has been seen by many for what it really is – an attempt to appeal to the supporters of the rabidly reactionary National Rally (formerly National Front) in advance of the country’s presidential election next year. Social media users mocked Macron as “Emmanuel Le Pen”, after the National Rally’s leader Marine Le Pen, who likewise spread fear about “an increased risk of attacks” and “new waves of immigration” from Afghanistan in the coming period.
Few rise to quite the levels of hypocrisy we’ve seen from the imperialist power that holds the greatest responsibility for the horrific plight of the Afghan people: the United States. Despite Joe Biden’s promise that “every resource necessary” would be mobilised to help asylum seekers and refugees, the White House has suggested that only around 50,000 Afghans will be let into the country, and only those who were previously employed by the US military will be allowed to apply. And yet some 300,000 people are estimated to have worked with the American occupation in one way or another. Having been used by the American occupiers, most of them are now being abandoned to almost certain death. This number doesn’t take into account the many thousands more who had nothing to do with the occupation forces but who are now at risk of reprisals from the Taliban for their activism, religious beliefs, etc.
The US government will put every conceivable barrier up to prevent refugees arriving. Those who wish to go to the US must receive a ‘Special Immigrant Visa’ (SIV) before entering the country, requiring a meticulous vetting process. This process, for which there is currently a ‘massive backlog’, requires among other things, proof of employment, proof of nationality and a letter of recommendation. This will be impossible for some, after US consular staff incinerated many such documents in their rush to get rid of sensitive documents before evacuating the US embassy. In addition, refugees wanting to travel to the US require ‘biometric vetting’, involving voiceprints, eye scans, hand prints and facial photographs.
According to the International Refugee Assistance Project, however, this vetting process has been ‘plagued with administrative errors’ meaning that many refugees are “stuck in the SIV process for years on years”. This means that Afghans hoping to enter the US will either be trapped in Afghanistan, or will be interned in military bases for the foreseeable future, until their paperwork can be processed. Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees will be left in a dangerous and unbearable limbo by the US, for the simple crime of being on a waiting list.
Videos have widely circulated showing desperate crowds of thousands of refugees outside Kabul airport being forcibly dispersed by US soldiers, firing into the air and using gas to drive people back. Even before the horror of the terrorist bombings at Kabul airport that killed 90 people last night, dozens of civilians have died in crushes and gunfire, and many more have been seriously injured while trying to gain access to the airport and to safety, while US soldiers struggle to keep them at bay by any means necessary. Particularly disturbing are videos of US planes taking off with desperate civilians clinging to the sides of the aircraft, falling to their deaths in the pursuit of safety.
The scene at Kabul airport several hours ago per source from an NGO who is trying to get people out. Main problem is that it's impossible to pass the gates and get to the planes even if you are on an evacuees list pic.twitter.com/b3bZn5B34Z— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) August 21, 2021
And yet, for some, the crisis unfolding in Kabul is a splendid chance to make a little extra profit. The ‘private security’ (read: ‘mercenary’) company, Blackwater, which has already profited enormously from US imperialist adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, is now purportedly selling tickets on chartered flights out of Kabul for $6,500 per head.
If US imperialism has been short of actions to ameliorate the suffering of Afghan refugees, the latter can perhaps take some satisfaction from the effusion of sympathetic words. The architect of the invasion of Afghanistan, George Bush, has expressed his “deep sadness” for the refugees fleeing the formerly US-financed Taliban forces and a war that he himself started. Meanwhile, Tony Blair solemnly fretted over the need to “evacuate and give sanctuary to those to whom we have responsibility.” Truly, there exists no better definition of ‘crocodile tears’.
While the ruling class around the world claim to have the best interests of Afghanistan at heart and wax lyrical about the sorrows of refugees, the Afghan people will get nothing from these profit-hungry imperialists. Johnson’s ‘generosity’, Macron’s ‘duty and dignity’, Angela Merkel’s ‘rescue mission’, Biden’s ‘heartbreak’ – these words are an insult to the millions of Afghan refugees whose lives have been destroyed.
Under capitalism, refugees are an economic inconvenience, a scapegoat for the ruling class, a bargaining chip in their political games, and a means of reeling in votes for the right-wing, pro-imperialist parties that stir up hatred towards the very victims of imperialism. We cannot expect genuine support for Afghan refugees from imperialist warmongers who undermine living and working conditions of workers in their own countries at the same time that they kill, maim and displace thousands and millions abroad.
The current crisis once more exposes the fact that the imperialists couldn't care less about the lives and livelihoods of the Afghan people. We demand that the borders are thrown open to the innocent victims of imperialist adventures. But this means bringing down the same ruling class that erects these boundaries in the first place. Men, women and children are fleeing Afghanistan and seeking respite elsewhere because of the actions of our own ruling class. Their class enemy is our class enemy. The internationalist duty of workers in imperialist countries to their class brothers and sisters in Afghanistan is to fight to bring down our own ruling class and create a socialist society without imperialism, borders or wars.