FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
HOW MANY SIKHS ARE THERE IN AFGHANISTAN?
The latest community-led and verified count of remaining individuals from 2019 has a total of 696 names. According to Afghan Sikh community elders, the population of Afghan Sikhs and Afghan Hindus was at its peak in Afghanistan in the 1970s with approximately 140,000 Sikhs and 70,000 Hindus.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY “CHANNELS FOR DISTRIBUTION” OF FUNDS BEING FEW AND FAR BETWEEN? I HAVE SEEN SEVERAL CAMPAIGNS.
In the initial wake of the attack, several new campaigns were started before a plan for allocating or distributing funds was created. Due to the security situation in Afghanistan as well as national lockdowns related to COVID-19, even community members with ongoing ties to the country have challenges sending money electronically and ensuring its delivery. We would caution against any promise that an electronic transfer can be easily facilitated.
Furthermore, to our knowledge, there are no NGOs on the ground in Afghanistan that work directly with the Afghan Sikh community. Especially in light of the heightened threats against the Afghan Sikh community and the restrictions in Kabul due to COVID-19, NGOs working out of Kabul are not currently in a position to ensure the provision of funds.
WHERE CAN I DONATE?
In the wake of the attack in Kabul, two campaigns working on the cause of Afghan Sikh resettlement renewed their call to action. The Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation (MSBF) is working on ongoing resettlement through the Afghanistan-India-Canada pathway for families from Helmand province determined to be in critical need in 2015. Funds collected by MSBF will be directed to continuing this work. The World Sikh Organization (WSO) is an advocacy organization that has worked in conjunction with MSBF. Their ongoing campaign is focused on raising awareness in Canada’s parliament to expedite the resettlement of the Helmand families. This call was amplified in 2018 after the attack in Jalalabad and again in 2020 after the attack in Shorbazar, Kabul.
In addition to these ongoing projects, a few new fundraisers have been started. To our current knowledge, no fundraiser has successfully sent its funds to the community in Kabul as relief for the most recent attack; plans for the distribution of aid have not been formulated or communicated. Should plans be successfully implemented, we would be happy to share the information on this site.
Considering the challenges organizations are still facing, we would caution against individuals with fundraisers who are promising that aid can be distributed on the ground. Each donor must make a careful decision as to where they send their money. These are the organizational fundraisers that we observed in the wake of the attack:
The Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation: https://www.themsbf.ca/
World Sikh Organization of Canada: http://www.worldsikh.org/save_afghan_sikhs
Afghan Ekta Cultural Religious Community Centre T/A Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar (Southall): https://fundly.com/sikhs-in-afghanistan-endured-a-brutal-attack
Salar-System via ReadToLead and Special Advisor for Sikh and Hindu affairs to President Ashraf Ghani: https://www.gofundme.com/f/gofundmecomsntfhelp
No channel is permanent due to the dynamic situation that changes each day.
WHAT IS THE PLAN TO GET AFGHAN SIKHS TO SAFETY?
In the short-term, India is the most viable destination for Afghan Sikhs. However, all visas have been suspended until at least April 15th due to COVID-19 and no passenger permission to disembark in an Indian airport, land border, or seaport. The only exceptions are for those who hold diplomatic passports granted by the Indian state.
WHY HAS THE COMMUNITY NOT BEEN TAKEN OUT OF THE COUNTRY YET? WEREN’T THEY TOLD AFTER 25 MARCH THAT THEY HAD TO LEAVE WITHIN 10 DAYS?
The city of Kabul is currently under a severe restrictions due to COVID-19. All government staff are off duty. The airport is not functioning. Afghan nationals require visas to enter 170 of the 195 countries that participate in the United Nations. The vast majority of the community holds no valid visa to exit the country. Countries such as Canada, the US, the UK, and EU member states will not accept direct resettlement of Afghan refugees.
With regards to entry into India, all visas except for diplomatic class visas, including overseas citizenship, have been suspended until at least April 15th. Any stories of planes leaving Kabul have only referred to the evacuation of Indian government officials. No plane holding any other type of passenger is permitted to land at an Indian airport as of now.
Community members have received anonymous calls from individuals claiming to be ISIS with the threat that they must leave in 10 days. The source of these calls has not been verified as of yet.
The attack on Gurduara Guru Harirai Sahib sparked a renewed call to leave Afghanistan that is amplified by much of the community, however we cannot state with certainty that every single member of the community will ultimately choose to leave.
I HAVEN'T HEARD ABOUT AFGHAN HINDUS IN THE LATEST NEWS, WHAT IS THEIR SITUATION?
Afghan Hindus migrated out of Afghanistan at a faster rate. The largest diaspora communities are in Germany (Frankfurt) and Delhi National Capital Region (Faridabad). In Afghanistan, Afghan Sikhs and Afghan Hindus are counted together for the voters’ list and census. The remaining community-led list includes individuals and families that identify as Hindu but live with and among the Afghan Sikh community. For more history and context on the community relationship of Afghan Sikhs and Afghan Hindus, see our Background page and afghanhindu.info.
WHAT DOES THE UN REFUGEE PROCESS USUALLY LOOK LIKE?
In India, new arrivals from Afghanistan fall under the management of the United Nations High Commissoner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Indian state has no national refugee framework and only processes refugee applications for groups managed by federally led programs (past programs include those for Tibetans and Tamils from Sri Lanka). Afghanistan is a declared country of concern for the UNHCR office in India. Once the UNHCR processes a refugee claim for an Afghan Sikh and provides them with identification, this documentation may be used to apply for a stay-visa. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are eligible for a stay-visa application and need not prove an individual safety concern.
When Afghans of any religious background arrive in India, it takes approximately 1 year to receive an identification card through the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). UNHCR identification allows for refugees to establish the right to stay in India should they comply with an annual review and verification with the FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Office) in Delhi. UNHCR identification does not act as documentation that confers official status as per Indian law. After 180 days in India, a resident requires a stay-visa to have official permission to reside in the country. This visa can then be used to apply for a residence permit, which is required in order for any migrant to legally work in the country.
Refugees residing in India may submit applications for resettlement to countries such as Canada, the US, UK, or EU member states, which tend to be the preferred destinations for Afghan Sikh community members. This process takes a minimum of 3-5 years. In Canada, direct sponsorship options to fund the resettlement of refugees are available, but securing a private sponsor does not expedite the legal process.
Under the EU relocation programme, only migrants who hail from countries with a 75% refugee recognition rate are eligible for relocation within the EU. The rate of refugee acceptance for Afghanistan has fallen below this threshold. Afghan refugees currently face the threat of repatriation back to Afghanistan.
The only UK resettlement program Afghan Sikhs may be eligible for that can be applied for before arrival is the Mandate Refugee Programme. Individuals must first apply for status with the UNHCR and must prove they have close ties to the UK, usually through a close relative, in order to be granted a visa.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO BE THINKING ABOUT THE IN LONG-TERM?
For resettlement in India to lead to a sustainable future, any plan to support Afghan Sikh refugees must take into account the financial and legal difficulties involved in the first few years of residence in India. Support for the first few years must include assistance with the following:
UNHCR registration, filing with the FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Office), stay-visa procedures, etc.
Securing a rental lease, SIM card, etc. without access to the paperwork frequently required (such as an Adhaar card).
Language and literacy help for Hindi and English.
School registration (refugees face many barriers enrolling their children in mainstream schools).
Financial support, skills training, and job placement assistance.