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Where are fleeing Afghans going?

Family of Afghan refugees in Concord, California

Family of Afghan refugees in Concord, California

Afghans living under Taliban rule continue to leave the country in droves. While many initially tried to make their way to Europe after the US withdrawal in Aug. 2021 – making their way on flimsy boats across the Mediterranean – a growing number of asylum-seekers have set their sights on a more distant destination: America.

But how do they get there? Most Afghans have taken a flight to Brazil, which offers humanitarian visas for Afghans, before making their way through a host of countries – Panama, Colombia, Nicaragua – and the dangerous Darien Gap, to reach Mexico. The roughly 16,000-mile route is rife with crime, but that hasn’t deterred Afghans from taking the leap.

The numbers are stark. Consider that only 100 Afghans crossed this perilous route from 2010-2019, but that number has jumped to 3,600 since the start of 2022. And while many are apprehended in Mexico or arrested by Colombian or Guatemalan authorities on the way, those who do make it to the US border still face steep challenges to resettlement.

Though roughly 52,000 Afghans have applied for humanitarian parole – a Biden administration policy that allows refugees to work in the US for two years while their asylum claims are being processed – just 760 of these claims have been approved to date.

Indeed, this messy dynamic gets to the heart of Biden’s biggest political pains – the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan was the beginning of the end of his approval rating, and the ongoing migration crisis, which is a boon for Republicans ahead of the 2024 presidential race.


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