From Kabul to Tegucigalpa: refugee or immigrant?


▲ Some 640 Afghans crammed into a US Air Force plane to be moved from Kabul to Qatar.

By: Miguel Tinker Salas* and Víctor Silverman*

Although separated by almost 14,000 kilometers, the disasters in Afghanistan and in Honduras have a common denominator: US policies that victimize both countries. In the first case the failed war against terrorism, which ultimately expanded the radius of action of these groups, and in the second case the failed war against drug trafficking, which ultimately increased the number of criminal groups, extended their penetration of State institutions and increased the violence that the population faced, particularly women.

In both cases, thousands of individuals and families are now displaced, converting them into refugees or exiles, as a result of policies promoted by Washington. Sadly, this story has been repeated in every country where the US or its NATO allies have intervened, be it Cuba, Vietnam, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Sudan, Libya, Syria, and now Afghanistan and Honduras.

After 20 years of war and occupation, the US now abandons Afghanistan. Images from the Kabul airport, where thousands of people were trying to escape the Taliban are terrifying. Families, women and even young people scaling the walls that surrounded the airport to get on the planes generated sympathy around the world, but in particular among the Western media that for years had perpetuated the myth that US actions in Afghanistan had achieved their objective. These same media outlets highlight the treatment women will receive as a result of the Taliban victory. The US and its European allies organized an unparalleled evacuation to extract more than 120,000 people who allegedly cooperated with the occupying army, or with the old corrupt regime that the US financed.

Although they don’t generate the same international attention and sympathy, similar images emerge in Honduras. Hundreds of people, not in airplanes, but in trucks, buses, and on foot a leave their country every day. Their numbers include hundreds of minors and women, refugees from femicide, who are forced to leave Honduras, where the corrupt government, which has the de facto support of the United States, is incapable of meeting the most basic needs required for daily survival. Even when they don’t flee from a political force like the Taliban, these people are victims of an economic and military project that makes it impossible to remain in their own country. Without international aid and facing a situation of poverty and violence, these people are forced to form caravans in order to escape from organized crime or government forces that try to profit from their precarious situation.

Like in Afghanistan, where the US maintained corrupt, sectarian and unpopular governments in power, as was the case with Hamid Karzai or Ashraf Ghani, in Honduras the US supported the coup against Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Afterwards, the State Department did what it could to prevent his return. Washington recognized the victory of the current president Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), even when international observers from the very same United States concluded that his victory was due to electoral fraud. To stay in power, JOH, whose government operates like a kleptocracy, represses social movements and sectors that criticize his government. Although federal courts in the US have pointed to him as a participant in drug trafficking, Washington continues supporting him to avoid a possible triumph of the left. Just like Afghan President Ghani, who fled from his country with four cars and a helicopter full of money, according to the Afghan ambassador in Tajikistan, the reality is that, without US support, Hernández would not be the president of Honduras today.

More than half a million Afghans have been displaced in the last months of the conflict. Those who weren’t able to leave by plane (or helicopter, like their president), now head toward the border with Pakistan from where they hope to march to Europe. Despite the sympathy that their situation generated, their future is uncertain. The European Union (EU) has already indicated that it will not give them refuge, they are “migrants.” Emmanuel Macron, president of France, declared that his country: “has to protect itself from Afghan immigrants.”

As in the US, the same sectors of the right that promoted the intervention in Afghanistan, and that reject Central American and Haitian immigrants, criticize the possible arrival of Afghans in the US. Some sectors of the left and the right propose granting asylum, but only to the Afghans who were loyal allies of the US army. Among the Afghans, as well as the Central Americans, without considering their responsibility in both cases, the US and the European countries distinguish between those who deserve help and those who they leave to their fate.

According to the UN’s Agency for Refugees, there are more than 82 million displaced persons, the highest number in history. To that number are added 272 million migrants. Jointly, almost 5 percent of the world’s population has been expelled from their homes as a consequence of economic, political, social and environmental disasters. In moral terms, and in practice, it’s not possible to distinguish between migrants and refugees.

How should the world respond to this humanitarian crisis? Confronting a more uncertain future in which the world is in danger as a result of permanent wars, impoverishment and global warming, a new human right must be established: the right to emigrate.

* History Professors, Pomona College

@mtinkersalas y @victorsilverman


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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