Afghans gather for a burial ceremony for victims of an air strike on civilians in Sorkh-Rod in Nangarhar on February 15, 2020. Photo: Wali Sabawoon / NurPhoto / AFP

Migration from Afghanistan to other countries is now at the highest level in the nation’s modern history. The important period of emigration began about 40 years ago, and is continuing, albeit with fluctuations.

Afghan migration includes all ethnic groups and social classes. After the 1978 coup and the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in 1979, many Afghans started to go to abroad (to Pakistan, Iran, and even to other continents).

After the overthrow of the communist regime in Kabul and the formation of the mujahideen Islamic state, because of the ongoing civil war and the establishment of the Taliban government, the flow of emigration has continued for the past two decades.

The foundation of the new Afghan government in 2001 provided some room for voluntary return of Afghan émigrés, but in addition to the lack of needed acceleration, some who did return (more than 10 million citizens) left the country again later.

In recent years, Afghanistan has also been among the three countries with the highest migrant populations in the world. More than 6.5 million Afghans are still abroad. Large numbers of them live in Iran, Pakistan, the European Union, the US and Australia.

Looking at nearly two decades of developments in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, migration and asylum seeking are not only an unresolved and unmanaged issue in Afghanistan today, but various contexts and causes have led to the continuation of this phenomenon. This is an important issue for the Afghan government, as well as for other countries. So, on a daily basis, we hear lot of bad news about this segment of Afghan society.

Security and political factors

Lack of security in various dimensions plays an important role in the continuation of Afghan migration. On the one hand, the lack of security against Islamic State (ISIS), the Taliban and other extremist groups is one of the main reasons behind the resurgence of Afghan refugees fleeing abroad.

On the other hand, the continuing political tensions in Afghanistan, the ongoing political challenges after the 2019 presidential election, the challenging inter-Afghan or government talks with the Taliban, and the lack of a clear vision of the political situation have led to high levels of migration and asylum seeking. 

In addition, the growing concern among various religious and ethnic minorities of more Taliban presence in the political arena has persuaded many to leave the country.

Economic factors

The role of the economy has always had a significant impact on the continuation of Afghan migration abroad. On the one hand, in the past four decades, many civil wars, droughts, lack of work and income in villages and cities, lack or low level of health facilities and education in deprived areas, and other factors have caused a large number of citizens to leave Afghanistan, trying to find a better life and income.

In addition, in the past two decades, although some migrants have returned thanks to the efforts of the Afghan government, the United Nations and other international organizations and countries in the region, the scope of the problems and challenges in various parts of Afghanistan remains a powerful motive to look abroad for better business opportunities, higher income and a better life in general.

And this affects different social levels, including the middle-aged, non-specialist generation, the younger generation, and the country’s wealthy and professionals.

Cultural and social factors

With the proliferation of social media and virtual tools in Afghanistan and the impact of the outside world on the minds of Afghan citizens, many have equated living abroad to prosperity, security, tranquility and wealth. Cultural poverty and its comparison with the experience in other countries by Afghan citizens have also exacerbated the desire for emigration.

Government of Afghanistan and emigrants

Over the past two decades, many emigrants have wished to return to Afghanistan, but despite the efforts of the government, the United Nations, and host countries, we are witnessing the continuation of the wave of Afghan refugees. 

This is while the role and influence of previous emigrant groups on Afghanistan’s future and their help in rebuilding the country, political and cultural development, and economic growth is undeniable.

In fact, in the past two decades, Kabul has made great efforts to lure emigrants back home and has signed agreements with hosting governments to repatriate Afghan refugees and encourage the return of specialists from abroad. However, despite this approach, the security and political situation in the country, corruption, lack of appropriate foreign aid, among other factors have kept the flow of Afghan emigration at a high level.


 The reality is that despite various efforts to resolve the migration issue over the past two decades, the gap between economic, political and cultural realities and the expectations of Afghan citizens is still relevant.

In addition, Afghanistan is currently in the midst of the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, the ongoing presence of groups such as ISIS and other terrorist groups, further localization of security, talks on the Taliban’s presence in political power, and finally the establishment of a participatory government and a new national unity.

The above conditions have caused a lot of concern and fear among the people of Afghanistan. In addition, if real or exaggerated concerns about insecurity, economic and political instability, and even war, along with rising violence in the country expand, we may see the continuation and even the beginning of a new wave of Afghan migration abroad. 

On the other hand, the danger of the expansion of Taliban’s power and the occurrence of ethnic, internal and religious conflicts in Afghanistan will increase the desire of people to emigrate. In economic terms, the continuation of tension within the Afghan government will result in its inability to provide the necessary conditions to prevent emigration by increasing foreign aid and investment.

Meanwhile, although the current Covid-19 epidemic is global, it will have dire economic consequences for Afghanistan’s growth and development, as well as security.

On the other hand, if Afghanistan can create a healthy, disciplined and efficient government with security and economic guarantees for its citizens, the passion to seek refuge abroad will decrease.

In addition, if peace talks with the Taliban have positive results, or if the structure of the participatory government and national unity is in line with citizens’ expectations, we will observe a wave of emigrants returning home. Apart from solving the problems faced by refugees, this will also lead to the injection of money and expertise into the country’s economy.

Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Farzad Ramezani Bonesh is a researcher and analyst of international affairs. He graduated in political science from the University of Tehran. Farzad Ramezani Bonesh is a writer, senior researcher and analyst on regional issues, especially in the Persian Gulf ,MENA and South Asia. He has previously served as chief editor of research desk at several Iranian research centers. He has written hundreds of research articles, short analysis and journalism in Persian and English. He has had many interviews...