Can I Apply for U.S. Asylum If I'm From Afghanistan?

Instability in Afghanistan, as well as traditional practices concerning women, has led to many citizens of that country fleeing and applying for asylum.

The numbers of asylum seekers coming from Afghanistan has been on the rise around the world. As of 2014, Afghanistan is one of the three top refugee-producing countries. (See, “UN finds Syria, Russia Afghanistan are top sources for asylum seekers; most head for Europe”, AP, March 20, 2014.)  In the United States, the  number of reported applicants  went from 95 in 2008 to 104 in 2009.

(Also see “Asylum-seekers around the world: where did they come from and where are they going?” in  The Guardian's  Datablog; which reported that, in 2011, 8.4% of asylum seekers worldwide came from Afghanistan — more asylum seekers than from any other country. Most of these sought asylum in Germany.)

Deteriorating security in 2013 led the organization Freedom in the World to give Afghanistan a “downward trend arrow” in its 2014  report, which states that Afghanistan is “not free,” and rates it 6.0 (7.0 being the worst rating) in freedom, civil liberties, and political rights.

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Afghanistan?

First off, asylum is not the only remedy for people who seeking protection from Afghanistan. The U.S. Congress authorized the Afghan Allies Protection Act in 2009, allowing Afghan nationals who were employed by the U.S. to apply for special immigrant visas for a limited time period. The program was extended in May 2014, allowing 3,000 Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan for at least one year between October 7, 2001 and December 31, 2014 (along with certain close family members) to obtain these visas. See “Afghan SIV Program Extended.”)

As for asylum, the situation in Afghanistan provides plenty of grounds upon which to file a claim. Hazaras, that is, Shia Muslims who look and worship differently than Sunni Muslim, continue to be targeted by Sunni, especially by the Pastun Taliban. (See “Life as One of the Most Persecuted Ethnic Groups on the Planet”, by Jeffrey Stern,  The Atlantic, May 21, 2013.) Hazaras have been victims of suicide bombings, kidnappings, and murders. See “Taliban attacks on Death Road highlight continuing persecution of Afghanistan’s Hazaras," AP, January 22, 2014.)

Women suffer greatly in Afghanistan. Forced marriages are common and women are arrested and charged with “attempted adultery” for being in the presence of unrelated men if they leave home. The U.S. State Department's  Country Report  for Afghanistan, 2013, says that approximately 70% of marriages in Afghanistan were forced, with an estimated 60% of girls married before the legal age of 16. Honor killings occur with frequency. More than 280 women were reported killed by family members during 2011 and 2012, though the number of actual cases may be much higher. Although rape is a crime, perpetrators often claim that the victim agreed to consensual sex. Woman have been charged with adultery, fornication, and kidnapping. Once raped, women are stigmatized and deemed unfit for marriage.

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Afghanistan?

Common types of asylum claims from Afghanistan include those from nationals who worked with the U.S. government (for asylum purposes, defined as membership in a  particular social group), members of the Hazara ethnic group (based on the asylum grounds of  nationality  and  religion) and, if they are lucky enough to get to the U.S., women (also a particular social group).

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From Afghanistan?

Afghan nationals who were employed by the U.S. government (who do not enter the U.S. with a special immigrant visa as described above) can be denied  asylum  if the U.S. immigration judge or asylum officer does not find the applicant to be credible (believable).

Afghans claiming to have suffered persecution or to fear persecution on account of their nationality and religion because they are Hazara must convince the judge or officer that they are, in fact, ethnic Hazara.

Judges or officers may deny women asylum if they are not able to demonstrate that they are members of a particular social group. These applicants should fashion a description of social group that includes an immutable characteristic beyond being female, although gender should be one theory on which the asylum application is based. The social group should be as narrow as possible without including only the applicant, such as “women in Afghanistan who were forced into marriage as minors.” If the social group set out in the asylum application is too broad, the immigration judge or asylum officer will not grant asylum.

What Can Afghanis Do to Increase Their Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

Afghan women claiming persecution on account of gender, including those forced into marriage, should be aware of numerous international instruments on the subject, such as Article 16(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (G.A. Res. 217A, at 74, U.N. GAOR 3d Sess., 1st  Plen mtg., U.N. Doc A/810 (Dec 12, 1948), Article 23 of the International Convention on Civil and political Rights (opened for signature Dec 16, 1966, rt.23., S.Exec.Dec.E., 95-2, at 30, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, 197 , entered into force Mar 23, 1976, and Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (opened for signature Mar 7, 1966, art. 16, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13, 20, entered into force Sept 3, 1981).

All of these affirm that marriage should be entered into only by consenting parties. You would be wise to submit treaties that support your claim along with your asylum application.

Applicants filing claims based on having worked for the U.S. government should document their jobs to prove that they fit into this category.

Hazaras must convince the immigration judge or asylum officer that they are, in fact, Hazara, and must explain how the persecutor knows they are Hazara. If you look different from the majority in Afghanistan, explain this. Also explain any and all ways you can be identified as Hazara.

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