Despite all the international attention, Afghan refugees are not welcome

Afghan refugees are processed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, 8 September 2021. Olivier Douliery/ Reuters/ Alamy

Despite the outpouring of international sympathy for Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban takeover last month, it’s by no means certain this will translate into receiving the refuge they are entitled to under international law.

Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland and Russia have categorically said they won’t accept new Afghan arrivals. Slovenia’s foreign minister even reportedly issued an outrageous warning of “terrorist attacks on European soil”.

In the United States, where tens of thousands of Afghans are expected to be resettled, some of the more ambitious and Trumpian members of the Republican Party are using the new refugees as a political weapon to fight culture wars ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Some Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE and Bahrain have indicated they intend to be only temporary hosts to the Afghans.

Afghanistan’s six immediate neighbours — Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and China, in declining order of the length of their shared border with Afghanistan — have also not been especially welcoming.

Is this about compassion fatigue or is there a need for a recalibration of attitudes towards refugees and the discourse around them?

In her 2018 book ‘Placeless People: Writing, Rights and Refugees’, British professor Lyndsey Stonebridge argues for a return to the moment when the meanings of exile — refugeehood and statelessness — changed from heroic to threatening; when refugeehood went from an imperative to act and instead became an imposition to be fended off.

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