The South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) today called for urgent international support to help Afghan journalists and media workers displaced and forced into exile in the two years since the fall of the country to the Taliban. SAMSN today described the situation as a humanitarian crisis and urged governments globally to expedite and open more resettlement pathways.
The Taliban’s ascent to power in August 2021 was catastrophic for Afghanistan’s media. A dramatic increase in media rights violations, the systematic targeting of women’s rights including the right to work, the introduction of repressive legislation targeting the media, and the economic collapse of the country’s once thriving media sector has forced an exodus of thousands of journalists and media workers from the country in every direction.
While a modest proportion of journalists and media workers have now settled in final countries to begin new lives, many more remain trapped in bordering countries including Pakistan and Iran. Displacement, uncertainty, lack of hope for the future, non-renewal of visas, financial hardships, health-related challenges, access to hospitals and clinics, are putting these journalists under severe psychological pressure. Ongoing visa delays of more than a-year-and-a-half, are leaving many traumatised media workers in a perilous state, without access to basic services, and living in constant fear of deportation.
It is estimated that at least 600,000 Afghans fled to neighbouring Pakistan after Kabul’s fall. Afghan refugees in Pakistan now number around 3.7 million. Of these, only 1.32 million are registered with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, the only agency that grants legal refugee status allowing them to stay in Pakistan. Backlogs in granting appointments for interviews are one of the key issues that have left many applicants, including journalists, stranded.
Of the approximately 500 journalists estimated to be living in Pakistan by 2022, SAMSN noted that only a few managed to secure legal documents to travel to a third country. But hundreds more remain refugees, 40 per cent of whom are female. Many Afghan women journalists are now in Pakistan on short-term visas that have expired. Most cannot afford to renew them. Without visas and with no way to get refugee status, humanitarian organisations’ hands are tied. Visa violators face up to three years in prison.
A 2022 survey of Afghan journalists in exile in Pakistan found over 86 per cent had issues with cash liquidity, while 77 per cent struggled with healthcare affordability. Without sustainable sources of income, many live with families who will not be able to support them long-term. Meanwhile, Afghan journalists in Iran face an increasingly precarious existence. Economic woes and conflict between Iran and the Taliban have resulted in a rise in anti-refugee sentiments, with hundreds of thousand Afghans deported.
SAMSN notes that too many countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Australia and others have failed to follow through on their initial support commitments to Afghanistan’s human rights defenders. Arbitrary delays leave many Afghan journalists in administrative limbo. The stalling of the US government’s Priority 1 and Priority 2 (known as P1 and P2 refugee programs) is also putting lives at risk. P1 and P2 should fast-track relocation of “at-risk” Afghans, including journalists and rights activists facing persecution from the Taliban, but is currently not doing so. Women journalists are particularly at high risk.
SAMSN also notes the sentiments of the IFJ’s Pakistan affiliate, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) which says while it is working with IFJ and support agencies including UNESCO to help desperate media workers in the country, such support is finite.
SAMSN remains gravely concerned at deficiencies of the international support for this extremely vulnerable media diaspora and calls on international governments and donor and humanitarian organisations to:
- Increase and follow through on emergency visa programs, streamline visa requirements, expand resources for handling asylum applications and provide further support and resources for resettlement schemes for Afghan journalists and media workers.
- Provide urgent assistance and support for Afghan journalists in the diaspora, including housing, health, financial, and other humanitarian aid
- Respect and understand the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women journalists in exile.
- Advocate against the repatriation of Afghan journalists from Pakistan, Iran and other countries to Taliban control, where journalists can face violence and imprisonment,
- Provide professional support for Afghan journalists in the diaspora, to allow the continuation of their careers, and provide immediate financial support.
- Develop and provide meaningful humanitarian and technical relocation support programs for Afghan journalists arriving in target destinations.
SAMSN also calls on the Pakistani government to do more to allow Afghans to work and secure necessary refugee and visa support.
Sabina Inderjit, President of the Federation of Asia-Pacific Journalists (FAPaJ), the IFJ’s regional group, said: “Afghanistan desperately needs an environment where media can thrive, reflect diverse perspectives, and promote transparency. We urgently need an adaptable legal framework, gender-inclusive policies, and an unwavering commitment to press freedom. Only through these concerted efforts can Afghanistan’s media reclaim its vitality, ensuring that the nation’s citizens are well-informed and empowered in the years to come.”
The SAMSN said: “SAMSN calls on the international community to act immediately to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding within this vulnerable, yet resilient community. Support, aid, and care are required urgently to ensure their safety and security, whether in Pakistan, Iran or beyond. For those countries that pride themselves on a free press, now is the time to put those values into meaningful action.”
- Afghan Independent Journalists Union (AIJU)
- Afghanistan National Journalists Union (ANJU)
- Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF)
- Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU)
- Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ)
- Free Media Movement (FMM)
- Indian Journalists Union (IJU)
- Maldives Journalist Association (MJA)
- Nepal Press Union (NPU)
- National Union of Journalists, India (NUJ-I)
- Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)
- Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
Note: Through this difficult period, the IFJ and its global affiliates have supported and advocated for Afghan journalists, including the provision of humanitarian aid, professional training, and relocation assistance in Oceania, Europe, North America, and beyond. The IFJ Safety Fund has also provided resettlement support, shelter, food, and cash donations for over 1,000 journalists, while the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), has continued to provide accommodation, food, and other support for Afghan journalists in Pakistan. In August 2023, The IFJ and the PFUJ opened two solidarity centres in Islamabad, dedicated to providing legal, psychological, and housing support for Afghan journalists in Pakistan awaiting relocation to third countries. Read more on the IFJ’s assessment of Afghan media workers in Pakistan in its report: A Precarious Exile.