Lessons we learned from two young Afghan women
Ukrainian evacuee Luda Oksonenko holds her two-month-old baby after crossing the border from Ukraine into Romania on March 16, 2022.
Armend Nimani | AFP | Getty Images
The following comment is from Curtis S. Chin, former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank and first Fellow of the Milken Institute Asia, and Laura Deal Laceyexecutive director of the Milken Institute Asia Center.
As the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine now exceeds 3 million people, countries around the world are responding.
Poland hosted more than 1.8 million Ukrainians. Hungary, Germany and Spain, among other nations, have opened their borders. Even Japan, which accepts very few refugees each year, has struggled to establish a support system to accept Ukrainians fleeing their homeland.
Yet, amid this much needed focus on this new wave of refugees, it is essential that government, business and community leaders do not forget the plight of Afghan refugees. Covid-19 worries, worries about jobs and inflation, and now Ukraine are understandably dominating the news.
In context, in 2021, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that there were 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees worldwide, with 2.2 million in Iran and Pakistan alone. . A further 3.5 million people have been internally displaced, having fled their homes to take refuge in Afghanistan. These numbers will likely continue to rise.
For us, it’s personal. Each year, the Milken Institute welcomes a promotion of 15 to 20 trainees in Asia. The program is designed to attract rising stars from across Southeast Asia and developing economies in the Indo-Pacific region. Over the years, the program has included interns from Afghanistan.
With the withdrawal of US forces last year, two of our former interns were evacuated from Afghanistan. We followed their journey from Kabul airport to refugee camps to resettlement.
Fortunately, the two young women are now safe and healthy. One begins life in Finland and learns to adapt to winter in Helsinki. The other moved to Tempe, Arizona, USA. She is studying, along with more than 60 other young Afghan women, at Arizona State University as part of a resettlement partnership co-sponsored by the International Rescue Committee and ASU.
3 lessons to help
So what do you do when your interns become refugees? Our experience and the lessons learned from our former interns suggest ways in which most people – with or without a personal connection to Afghanistan, or Ukraine for that matter – can help those who are lucky enough to have left the refugee camps and who are now forced to build a new life. .
First, identify trusted organizations that provide support, and find out how you or your organization can best help. It can be fundraising – cash donations are usually the most flexible way to help meet urgent needs when in-kind contributions aren’t possible – or it can be volunteering and sharing your time and your knowledge.
Employment, housing and education support are essential, as is the provision of mental health support. As with those fleeing Ukraine today, many who fled Afghanistan may well face “survivor guilt” driven by worries and concerns about family members and friends left behind. country. Here, small and medium enterprises and organizations already engaged at local and community level can play a key role.
Assistance is provided by government, businesses and non-profits, but programs need to be scaled up and resourced sustainably.
In one example, World Education Services has launched a Gateway program to assess the credentials of Afghans who have been displaced and who have limited evidence of their academic performance. This is essential to help eligible individuals further their education, obtain a license in their field, or take the next step in their career path in the United States.
At the governmental level, the United States has taken in some 80,000 Afghans suddenly forced to flee their country since August 2021, with the International Rescue Committee alone having resettled 10,000 new arrivals. According to the Washington Post, about 90% of the 80,000 people airlifted to the United States have been moved off military bases and resettled in American communities, with the help of some $13 billion in government spending.
Yet many of the Afghans who have arrived in the United States since August are still at risk of deportation due to their rushed arrival under what the US government calls humanitarian parole. It is an emergency status that extends the right to work and live in the United States for only two years with no way to qualify for permanent residency.
Second, take the time to stay engaged and learn more about a refugee’s country of origin — Afghanistan or Ukraine or elsewhere — even as the news cycle shifts from crisis to crisis. This knowledge can be used to continue to leverage your voice and platforms – from community organizations to social media – to address important geopolitical issues such as the future of Afghanistan, to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and to encourage legislative or policy changes. as well as bilateral and multilateral support for those most at risk and left behind in Afghanistan. This, too, will be essential to meet the needs of Ukrainian refugees.
As the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate and hunger and misery increase following the departure of the United States, we were particularly pleased to see the Asian Development Bank Board of Directors step in January to approve 405 million dollars in grants to support food security and the delivery of essential health and education services for the Afghan people.
As part of its Sustaining Essential Services Delivery Project (Support for Afghan People), the AfDB will provide direct financial support to four UN agencies that have a presence and logistics in Afghanistan for immediate humanitarian support. This direct support will be implemented through agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program and their non-governmental organization partners.
Third, look behind the individual’s digits — beyond the stereotypes and fears that too often resurface in difficult economic times. Among the tens of thousands of Afghans who were able to flee their country, we had the chance to know and work with two of them when they were interns. Each also helped put a human face on an ongoing tragedy, helping to win support for them and others in their place.
Our colleagues at the Milken Institute stepped up and collectively donated to the Education Futures for Afghan Refugees program at the Arizona State University Foundation. As we both spent part of our childhood in Arizona, and one of us had family since 1898 in what was then Arizona Territory, it was especially gratifying to see the arizona play a key role in helping young Afghan women on their journey to independence from the United States.
It has also been heartwarming to see friends, family and professional acquaintances offering financial assistance and other types of support such as mentorship for young women pursuing potential study programs and career paths. in the USA. For our intern in Finland, it was a similar experience as friends and strangers extended our reach by finding support on the ground in Helsinki.
It takes a village to make refugees feel welcome. Each of us – in business, in government, in civil society and in our local neighborhoods – can be part of a humane and sustained response to a refugee crisis, whether or not the headlines have changed.