Virginia Tech experts weigh in on Afghanistan’s takeover and migration

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 5:26 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Experts from Virginia Tech report there’s more to the conflict in Afghanistan we may not understand.

WDBJ7 spoke with experts who break down the conflict and explain what could happen next as American withdrawal from the country continues.

Recent images from Afghanistan captured the world, showing what experts say has been unfolding for decades.

“Millions of people who really have been through a lot, I mean it’s really hard to think of any country where its population has suffered more, right, over the last, you know, four decades, than Afghanistan, right? When you look at the number of refugees that the country that has been, you know, on top for many years for the Syrian crisis is Afghanistan,” said Dr. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs.

The Taliban has seized power in Afghanistan as the United States withdraws troops nearly 20 years after the war began. Experts believe this presents one big question: What’s next?

“Major countries are now trying to decide what should they do. Should they recognize the legitimacy of a Taliban government and start dealing with them as as a proper government or not? So that’s where we are at this point in time,” said Dr. Boroujerdi.

As for the thousands of Afghans hoping to flee the country and escape Taliban rule, Katrina Powell, an expert on migration and refugee studies at Virginia Tech, says it is easier said than done.

“By and large, the refugees coming from Afghanistan go to Iran and Pakistan, but a few come to the United States, and those numbers are, have always been, quite low. In 2020, they were the lowest they’ve ever been at about 18,000. And then in 2021, that number was revised to 62,000. So in the state of Virginia, we would get just even, an even smaller number than that,” said Powell, the director of Virginia Tech’s New Center for Refugee, Migrant and Displacement Studies.

Powell said the United States immigration process is long and quite backlogged. So, asylum seekers from all over the world must wait a long time in another place.

“As you know we have asylum seekers coming from Central America, South America, and the applications are so many and the resources so few that we have quite a backlog. So someone trying to come from Afghanistan to the United States faces a long wait time in another place. Maybe Iran, maybe Pakistan or Turkey, as they’re waiting for their application to be reviewed and approved,” said Powell. “I think that when someone is forcibly displaced, no matter the reason, whether it’s from natural disaster, government-induced development or civil war, the kinds of choices that people are given are very limited. And so, people do, they make the choice that they think that they can.”

Experts anticipate seeing more humanitarian efforts geared at helping the Afghan population - but they strongly encourage people to continue to educate themselves on the conflict.

“I think, you know, we need to also recognize that we live in a in a global community, where things that happened someplace else, right, end up impacting us whether we like it or not,” said Dr. Boroujerdi.

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