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No Country For Afghans: Where Will Afghan Refugees Go?

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The situation in Afghanistan right now is everything our worst nightmares are made of. There is this thing about nightmarish situations, we always think that we won’t be a part of it. That we will magically be spared of the horrors. Mostly because these are horrible thoughts that can disturb your mental peace for days to come and it is relatively easier to sleep at night. If you start ignoring the brutality happening around you, console yourself, and your conscience by remaining apolitical, and eventually forget about them.

Taliban takes over the Presidential Palace in Afghanistan

Throughout the last week, what we have seen is nothing short of Margaret Atwood’s pioneer work “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the fictional nation described in it — “Gilead“. As we see every country busy saving their end of the tail, the Taliban continues killing of minorities (the Hazaras) by slicing their muscles off and strangling them with a scarf, hunting down people, from journalists to activists, to mere female students whose only sin was education and forming their own voice, we continue losing the countless voice of pleas and desperation for some sort of help to just have the luxury to stay alive.

From a soldier who is leaving his newborn and wife to people throwing their babies over the barbed wire, in a dazed state of some sort of a tragic and pitiful optimism that someone might have mercy on the children and rescue them, from people being found in the plane’s landing gear in an unrecognizable condition to women carrying poison with them so they can die before Taliban can capture them, the question that immediately arises is that where would they go? What is everyone doing to help them? And how would they overcome this situation? Well, let’s see what the so-called human beings are doing about the most disgusting human rights violation in the history of the earth:

Turkey

Turkey had claimed brotherhood with Afghanistan in the past, influencing them both diplomatically and politically. It had been reported that the Turkish soldiers in the Afghan military were seen as the son of their own blood. Turkey which joined the UN in 1945, became a member of NATO in 1952 and had claimed to have undertaken many reforms to strengthen democracy, is almost unrecognisable now. Though it seemed like Turkey and the US both had the same goal of stopping the collapse of the Kabul government, however, since August 17, the Turkish foreign minister hinted at their willingness to work with Afghanistan and consequently whatever government Afghanistan will have. It showed an interest towards engagement with the Taliban itself which gets further shown in their interest to protect the Kabul airport since it would mean more power and increased importance in NATO.

Erdogan’s government has refused to take in Afghan refugees.

After the Kabul takeover by the Taliban, one of the options for Afghans was to take shelter in Turkey. Anticipating a refugee flood, the Turkish government started building border walls and deep trenches around it as “Turkey does not have any obligation whatsoever to be a haven for Afghan refugees“. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even said as far as sending Afghan refugees back once they are caught (“It is our obligation to Turkish citizens to ensure the refugees’ safe return to their home countries“).

The problem is Turkey has posed itself as a key transit point for Afghan refugees trying to flee from their country to seek asylum in Europe. What Turkey is worried about is not refugee influx, but about how to hold and use this leverage to establish themselves as a powerful nation. For Taliban and their sympathizers, and countries actually wanting to help Afghans, Turkey is becoming increasingly necessary in the equation and thereby, more powerful. According to the authorities, they prevented the safe passage of over 69000 migrants and arrested 904 suspects under the guise of them being human traffickers. It is very far from the country Turkey was presenting itself to be on July 19th 2021, when they said the Taliban should “end the occupation“.

China

China is notorious for not giving refugees an inch of soil to stand on, as it captures all the North Korean refugees seeking asylum in South Korea, or other European countries and sends them back to their country to the arms of death which are mostly implemented through torture and executions. China’s violation of human rights doesn’t end there. The most prominent example of that is the Uyghur Muslim genocide where human rights activists believed that China detained at least a million of them against their will under the semblance of “re-education camps” where women were being forcefully sterilised and all of them were being employed in forced labour.

Even though China had said it won’t recognise Taliban control until government formation, one Taliban spokesperson has hinted at their willingness to establish a good relationship with China, and so far the feeling seems very mutual. This is surprising given China’s history towards Muslim communities but is actually not when we understand their interests in acquiring the lucrative projects in mineral-rich Afghanistan, which are estimated to be worth anywhere between USD one trillion to USD three trillion in 2020. So, even though China was an aloof spectator the whole time, it’s evident that their interest has been piqued.

Not only that, with the US and NATO almost washing their hands off the matter, and the Taliban gaining increasing support from other Muslim countries, China thinks itself to be at the risk of being at the receiving end of the rage of Islamic Extremist groups, because of their history with Uyghur Muslims. So them ignoring the plight of thousands of people and supporting one of the most disgusting religious fundamentalist groups of all time is diplomatically and economically very profitable for China and a powerful and influential country like China’s support would imply increasing strength of Taliban, further cementing their control and thereby leaving thousands of Afghan people with no choice or hope but to succumb to the situation.

Pakistan

One of the most popular pathways through which Afghan people fled before and during Taliban atrocities was through Pakistan. To their credit, the country actually did offer a safe sanctuary and passageway for them to settle down and start from scratch or to fly to European nations. But from the very beginning, Pakistan never left a chance to blame the social ills that they were facing as a nation on Afghan refugees. Even though cities like Karachi is home to thousands of Rohingya and other Burmese, even Bihari-Bangladeshis, are despised by the Pakistani government. The light of hope for Afghan refugees was thin, to begin with.

The Taliban (pictured above) found active benefactors in Pakistan.

However, in the light of current events, Pakistan, like China, is taking an active strategic interest in Afghanistan. There have been several rumours about Pakistan being an active ally of Talibani forces since the time of their inception in 1994. Some of the rumours go as far as claiming Pakistan also helped train the Taliban. Former CIA Director General David Petraeus told NPR earlier that this situation wouldn’t have been a reality without the Taliban’s main benefactor – Pakistan. Imran Khan himself said that Afghanistan finally broke its chain of slavery which goes on to show that there is no reason to hope for any solution for the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan from Pakistan at least as Pakistan will leave no stones unturned to use this opportunity to strengthen their power in the international community.

Back to the present, even if the Pakistan-Afghan border looks calm, it has a lot more going on under the shadow of apparent peace. It has shut its border to Afghans a little while before the Taliban takeover. Even though they haven’t been as cutthroat as Turkey, they are refusing Afghan refugees saying they don’t want terrorists to enter under the guise of a civilian. The border is heavily armed, to say the least, and Islamabad has officially made a statement that they won’t be accepting any refugees since they are at capacity, despite several requests from the UN refugees’ agency.

Iran

Iran is a war-torn country and knows very well what violence looks like as they stood in front of it, and came back, starting from scratch. Even though Iran’s constant attempt to preserve their interest in Afghanistan met with no enthusiasm or attention, Afghanistan had been a primal part of Tehran’s foreign policies. So we can safely assume they would exploit this situation to their advantage as much as they can. Already Taliban has seized control over one of the major Afghanistan border crossings including Islam Qala near Iran. Locals reported that not only Taliban chiefs go back and forth from Iran to Afghanistan and have Iranian bodyguards, during the border control Iranians welcomed them.

After the control of the Taliban, Iranian border officers refused entry to most of the helpless Afghans, trying to run away from the face of violence and death. Both Iran and the Taliban, upon meeting, seemed to have settled on one common point which is the formation of an Islamic government and putting the US completely out of the equation.

Britain

The UK has a long history with Afghanistan. Even though they adopted a policy of non-interference, on August 16th 2021, Britain agreed to send 200 additional troops to Afghanistan to oversee the situation and maintain peace. However, their hectic and chaotic departure and recent events bring forth a lot of questions about their potential policies towards Afghanistan and the situation is becoming increasingly confusing. Britain is just playing the blame game where all of the cabinet members are putting their fingers at each other, mainly Boris Johnson, but Britain is mostly aggrieved towards Biden, who has been thoroughly criticised for his ill-prepared, and inhumane actions.

While Boris Johnson was condemned for lack of involvement and tact in the situation, the person who criticised him the most is Theresa May, the predecessor of Johnson, who has proven herself, from time and time again, very hostile towards migrants and their situation, so it came out a bit hypocritical, as Johnson was arranging policies for migrants in Britain. But even if Boris Johnson appears to care for the migrants, the policies he is introducing tells a story far from that. The proposal to take 20000 Afghans begs the question of when will the first world nations come to understand their moral obligations as human beings. The problem is UK will never step out of its alliance with the US and that affects and clouds all the diplomatic judgements they are gonna take.

Boris Johnson failing to plan properly the evacuation of the troops or not sacking the foreign secretary Dominic Raab who thought it is more necessary to enjoy his “holiday” puts the nation in a situation where he must form strong and strategic policies that would be beneficial for both allies and the refugees. However the situation does not appear that grim here as they are at least talking about giving shelter to the refugee Afghans but it might also be because most Afghans, right now, have no passage to reach Europe whatsoever.

India

This whole debacle is real bad news for India as we see Pakistan forming a stronger alliance with China because of Afghanistan. It could mean a nightmare for Indian security. India’s stance towards Afghanistan has always been “anti-Taliban“. Even though the prime minister maintains the stance that help will be provided for “Afghan brothers and sisters who are looking towards India for assistance“, largely India has mostly been silent towards this issue. Even when Modi hinted at the situation saying “Empires Of Terror” is temporary, most of his speech was propaganda and forwarding his agendas through the inauguration of Somnath Temple.

India maintains a friendly stance towards refugees but India’s own policies say otherwise as India’s Citizenship Amendment act gives a pass to Hindu and Sikh refugees but largely neglects Muslims.

I started this article with the mention of Margaret Atwood and her revolutionary novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”. This does not have any other agenda than showing people what is really happening around this crisis and somehow among political conundrums the cries of actual human lives are being neglected. There is no place for Afghans to go, there remain zero reasons to even continue living. But I just want everyone to remember just one thing: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” which roughly translates to “Don’t let the bastards grind you down“.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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