Stopping it at source: Migration decision- and policy-making in Afghanistan

Lead Research Organisation: City University London
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences


This project examines the impact of EU strategies to discourage migration and return rejected asylum seekers back to Afghanistan. It asks how information from different sources about migration is gathered, sorted and evaluated by potential migrants and by their government. The study focuses on a country with a history and culture of migration during a period of increasing insecurity, severe and growing unemployment, and rapidly changing circumstances and policies, where migration is seen as both a solution and a problem.
Afghanistan has been a source country for the largest number of forced migrants globally for the past four decades. The large scale returns from neighboring countries that followed the fall of the Taliban government have slowed significantly and outflows have continued. Over the past two years, migration has sharply increased in response to the resurgence of the Taliban and other insurgents following the withdrawal of international forces, a sharp contraction in the economy due to political uncertainty and growing insecurity, the acknowledgement by the President that the security forces could not protect individuals and the perception in summer 2015 that Europe had opened its borders to refugees.
By the end of 2015, the governments of destination (and donor) countries responded with information campaigns seeking to reduce and or deflect the number of migrants heading in their direction, and warned the Afghan government that further aid would be contingent on cooperation in reducing out-migration and accepting forced returns (the EU's new 'more for more, and less for less' strategy). This is a challenge given a culture in which migration has traditionally been a survival strategy, a 'normal' response to crises, and given the flow of information from family members abroad largely encouraging departure.
This study explores the pressures on both the Afghan policymakers and Afghan citizens. Both groups seek to make decisions in severely constrained circumstances, on the basis of competing, conflicting and imperfect information. The project has 3 work streams, developed in consultation with Afghan stakeholders:
We seek to understand how and why different information sources (families, friends, agents, the media, governments) are validated while others are discounted by potential migrants;
We will study Afghan migration policy-making with a focus on responses to pressures by destination/donor states to stop large scale emigration;
We will explore representations of forced migration in Afghan popular culture (survival strategy, adventure, investment), which forms the backdrop to the above processes. As a country with a long history of forced migration in particular, we will consider whether popular culture 'normalises' migration and the opportunities and risks associated with it. We will gather popular poetry and songs in the two national languages that refer to migration, migrants and those left behind.
The study is particularly important because it explores the response in Afghanistan to established (information campaigns) and new (more for more, less for less) strategies adopted by EU policy-makers in their drive to reduce migration from developing countries. Together with a team of Afghan researchers from the Social Sciences and the Arts, we will employ a range of methods (repeat interviews with potential migrants and with Afghan policy-makers over a period of 12 months, a textual analysis of popular culture [songs and poetry] leading to a filmed theatrical performance by Theatre students. This will be the first time that Afghan scholars have produced internationally excellent academic research on migration in Afghanistan in the national languages.

Planned Impact

The new and established EU strategies employed in Afghanistan are intended as policy tools for use to control emigration from developing countries globally. This study will therefore benefit policy-makers and stakeholders in developing and high emigration countries more generally. The policy brief prepared for the Afghan government will explain and assess the EU strategies and their implications. Schuster has already had discussions with Afghan government officials and provided informal briefings on EU policy developments.
This study will also benefit Afghan government departments in terms of capacity-building. While training has taken place within MoRR, funded by the International Organisation for Migration, much of it was of a very general nature (management and IT skills), so that there remain gaps in migration experience, knowledge and skills that the Minister is keen to address through knowledge transfer. Schuster will provide a series of workshops for staff within the Ministry, in order to improve policy making, build capacity in the Ministry and assist with better understanding of European policy and positions towards Afghan migrants in particular. Officials from MoRR, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Labour and the President's Office will be invited to the conference in Kabul (at ACKU) at which findings will be presented and comments invited on early drafts of articles and policy briefs.
EU (and other destination) governments are investing considerable resources in these strategies so an early evaluation of their impact will also benefit Member States and the Commission. A second policy briefing will be prepared for EU officials, including Mr Avromopolous (Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship) and Mr Odini (Deputy General Migration and Asylum) from the Commission with whom Schuster met in Bratislava. July 2016. Schuster will also visit EU presidency officials to brief on the impact/effectiveness of the new policy (including Mr Kalinak [Slovak Deputy Prime Minister, current president of the EU], Malta, UK and Estonia - who will take over the Presidency of the EU during the life of the project).
Other beneficiaries include Afghan civil society organisations advising migrants, policy-makers, and scholars. There is only one civil society organization that works explicitly and directly with potential migrants in Afghanistan and that is AMASO. AMASO provides advice to potential migrants, and working with Mr Ghafoor, this research will help to improve the information provided. However, AMASO is also linked to a number of Human Rights organisations in Kabul. All will be invited to the academic and press conferences, and to the seminars at ACKU.
Graduates are among the most likely to migrate from Afghanistan for a range of reasons, including easier access to information from abroad, frustration with unemployment and the security situation in the country. The theatrical performance planned for Kabul University (but open to other students), and the conference scheduled to take place at ACKU will inform debate among this population about the impact of migration (negative and positive) on individuals and their communities.
This project will create a small group of migration scholars, capable of contributing to policy-making and public debates on migration. There are researchers in Afghanistan who have experience in this field, but as data collectors. These researchers will be involved in all stages of the research, including analysis, writing up and dissemination.


10 25 50