USCIRF Conversation: Update on at-risk religious communities in Afghanistan
By Dr Zsuzsa-Anna Ferenczy for Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (08.10.2021) – On 6 October the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom held a virtual event discussing religious communities at extreme risk of persecution in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control on August 15, 2021. Moderated by Dwight Bashir, Director of Outreach and Policy at USCIRF, the event brought together a panel of experts including Palwasha Kakar, Interim Director at the United States Institute of Peace and Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF uses international standards to monitor violations of religious freedom or belief abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.
The online discussion explored ways the U.S. government and international community can protect and assist at-risk Afghans in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover.
The Taliban’s imposition of its strict interpretation of Sunni Islam poses a grave threat to all Afghans of differing interpretations and other faiths or beliefs. Since taking control of the country in August, the Taliban has intimidated, threatened, and targeted leaders from religious minority communities. The already small Afghan Hindu and Sikh communities are nearly extinct, and the last Jew in Afghanistan fled the country in September. Hazara Shi’a Muslims, Christians, Ahmadis, and Baha’is face dire consequences at the hands of the Taliban and ISIS-K.
The panelists agreed that the situation in Taliban’s Afghanistan is increasingly alarming. In her intervention, Palwasha Kakar of the US Institute of Peace contextualized some of the religious communities in Afghanistan, including the Hindu and the Sikh, who have a long history in the country. The Taliban have banned their activities of worship and they have been facing systemic discrimination, like all religious minorities in Afghanistan. Historically they have not been given equal right to education and have been facing kidnappings and assassinations. In her recommendations, the USIP representative urged that the global community seek to ensure that religious minorities are treated like all Afghans, are allowed to worship freely, that Taliban stop all criminal activities against Sikhs and Hindu, put an end to targeted kidnappings and the attacks on temples and shrines, return land and confiscated homes and protect the cultural heritage sites of all religious minorities.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service spoke of the evacuation and resettlement of Afghans in the US. Since 2001, 97,000 of Afghans were resettled. For the future, the Congress should pass a bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act to ensure that those coming with a temporary status have access to green cards. There is now an opportunity to resettle religious minorities, the expert stressed. The Adjustment Act concerns those who entered the US on humanitarian parole, which is a temporary status that allows for admissions into the country. Providing asylum is not sufficient. The US has a moral obligation to provide protection and establish protection for the particularly vulnerable. The Afghans who make it into the US have undergone trauma, and continue to grapple with anxiety, just as they face anti-immigrant sentiment in their new home. The international community has an important role to play in this process and should work together with local partners on the ground, including women, to protect those at risk and to offset the ongoing violations, experts stressed.
Zsuzsa Anna FERENCZY Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan
Non-resident Fellow, Taiwan Next Generation Foundation
Research Associate, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
Consultant on China, Taiwan, Korea at Human Rights Without Frontiers
Head of Associates Network, 9DASHLINE