Afghan Migration: Addressing Challenges, Mapping Futures

Afghanistan faces many changes in 2014, with the impending withdrawal of coalition forces and presidential elections set for the spring. In this climate of uncertainty, many are tempted to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude; yet the country’s many complex challenges require urgent, coordinated responses. This was the message of an April 2013 conference organized by the School of Governance in the framework of the IS Academy project.

With nearly three quarters of its population affected by migration, and the largest number of international migrants worldwide, Afghanistan is a country at the heart of many debates on migration.

Now, more than ever, it is important to know what is pushing the culture of migration so manifest in Afghanistan. Next the international community needs to decide how it can help Afghanistan to develop adequate solutions for its massive migration challenges. (To this end, our playlist below presents several representatives from international organizations).

While large numbers of Afghan migrants have found their way to Europe, this flux is only the tip of the iceberg. Much more significant are migration flows to Afghanistan’s neighbours Iran and Pakistan, or to Turkey and Greece, and to an even greater extent those within the country’s own borders.

Many Afghans are now returning to their homeland, some voluntarily, others as a result of deportation policies. Often they do not return to their areas of origin but join the many internal migrants who are moving towards urban centres in search of jobs and resources.

This phenomenon has led to the rapid growth of informal peri-urban settlements, popping up around key cities such as Kabul. This trend puts pressure on existing infrastructure and causes social tensions. For example, nearly half of the Afghan population is affected by underemployment and it is commonplace for Afghans to find themselves in precarious job situations..

Afghanistan is essentially facing a ‘social time bomb’. On the one hand we observe a demographic push among the youth to leave their country, but on the other hand youth are being returned to a context where they cannot find work. What should they do?

Although young people are most affected by migration flows, they represent a category often left out in humanitarian assistance efforts which generally target returning refugees or internally displaced persons.

Afghan Boys Travelling from Kabul to Salang Pass for Eid al-Fitr As highlighted by our conference speakers, the migration discourse is shifting from refugees to labour migration and mobility, and international support and funding should follow. In this respect, support to develop better policies to manage the migration situation in Afghanistan would be a start.

Additionally, the establishment of better systems for data collection and capacity building training of in-country ministerial staff would represent important steps forward to address some of the broader challenges facing Afghanistan in the run up to 2014.

By Elaine McGregor, Project Coordinator at UNU-MERIT and the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. Image: UN Photo / F. Waezi

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