Afghans have a strong tradition of temporary and permanent migration. People from Afghanistan form one of the world’s great conflict diasporas. Regional movement and return has ebbed and flowed for generations. Internal migration, both forced and voluntary, plays a big role in churning the country’s demography and politics. Afghan migration is so varied and so important to its people’s past and future that it demands disaggregation and careful analysis.
In recent years STATT has conducted over 20,000 interviews on migration issues with people in and around Afghanistan. This issue of Synapse collates and considers the indications that Afghan migration patterns are in flux. In particular, we explore recent and present Afghan migration trends through the lens that many Afghans and foreigners are providing: how will human movement interact with the country’s prospects beyond 2014? Answering this question has formed a part of STATT’s program development and research guidance for 2013.
There has been a dearth of analysis examining how changing dynamics in Afghanistan will affect international and domestic migration patterns. Afghans and donors need to monitor and consider the impacts of migration on the situation in Afghanistan, since people in the country today may not be there tomorrow. There are indications of a self-fulfilling prophecy: fear of instability in 2014 is driving emigration of the very people and money that could prevent instability. We therefore conclude with recommendations on grasping trends and grappling with their implications.
This Synapse was inspired by two trends we have observed in the last nine months. The first is increasing references by Afghans to 2014 as a factor influencing migration decisions. The second is increasing references by foreigners to 2014 as generating risks of implosion. We set out to explore how these trends may be influencing each other. An important finding along the way is that there is no systematic collection of migration planning and outflows to support prediction and preparation. (You can find a sample of related publications and reading here.)
Local and foreign commentators appear to agree there is a dark cloud looming over Afghanistan. Most foresee a future of conflict, instability and chaos as a fait accompli for the country. Foreign and local perspectives are not always synchronised but in this case they seem to be close.
Afghanistan’s strong traditions of migration and well-worn habits make it attractive to consider past behaviour as a guide to the future. When deciding what to expect for migration beyond 2014, however, we suggest analysing contemporary dynamics and taking a fresh look at external structures, especially the situation of Afghanistan’s neighbours, the broader context of economic opportunities and the shifting nature of the asylum system.
Any protracted conflict over power will likely cause mass displacement. History provides a guide to the migration urges this will create: more Pashtuns from the south and east will likely want to move to Pakistan, Tajiks will want to move internally to Kabul and northwards, Hazaras in the south will look to Quetta while those in the centre who become affected by violence will orient themselves to Kabul, Iran and Australia.
At the macro level, experts are predicting a significant contraction of the Afghan economy after 2014. More difficult economic conditions locally and nationally are likely to increase motivations for migration, both internally and across borders. To get a feel for the heavy influence of development and military spending on Afghan employment, we compared per capita GDP and per capita Official Development Assistance in the chart below. There is a suggestive correlation between GDP and ODA growth in recent years – although the relationships are complex, it is extremely likely that reductions in aid will disentangle a significant proportion of the value-added in Afghanistan’s economy (GDP data is available from UNdata here and World Bank ODA data here). Moreover, this comparison excludes U.S. military spending, which has hovered around the $100 billion mark over the last few years.
ODA and GDP per Capita in Afghanistan in Current US$
Moving away from macroeconomics, we looked for wage comparisons that could illustrate the challenges facing individuals and families reliant on foreign spending for employment. Download Synapse for a fuller discussion, but in summary the chart below uses UN salaries and allowances data for an employee who would have a university degree and 4-6 years of experience. The chart shows the ratio between (1) this person’s gross salary and allowance into USD at purchasing power parity (PPP) and (2) GDP per capita in 2011. It suggests that a junior professional Afghan in the UN would be earning close to 100 hundred times GDP per capita at PPP. This comparison cannot tell us much about the macroeconomic impact of UN employment, but does help us imagine the challenge facing those middle-class individuals and families in maintaining living standards in Afghanistan as foreign-sponsored jobs dwindle in the coming years.
UN Salary of Level NO-B in multiples of 2011 GDP per capita (PPP)
Key findings and recommendations in Afghan Migration in Flux link to development, politics and migration management:
- As an obvious point arising from our attempts to predict patterns, the lack of time-series data that can support accurate analysis and gauge impacts makes it difficult to plan for Afghanistan’s development.
- We expect increased flows to many countries that already receive Afghan regular and irregular migrants.
- As a contributing factor, we note that Afghan migrant connections and capacities have grown over the last decade, meaning there is a platform for more diverse, bigger, faster and more distant migration.
- In migration terms, Pakistan and Iran are likely to suffer the brunt of conflict in Afghanistan.
- For countries further afield operating asylum systems, returning failed asylum-seekers to Afghanistan is likely to become more difficult and reintegration even more challenging.
- At the macro level, given Afghans have been such important users of the international refugee system, any flux in their asylum-seeking may have systemic effects.