Refugees are a large problem in Afghanistan that come from both the civil war that rocked the country and US involvement after September 11th. Images we see from media sources often shows desolate communities with buildings destroyed but never really talks about the shortage of livable spaces due to the destructions created by war. Videos such as the one below show dirty faces and conditions not suitable to human beings.
These images are troubling and create a disdain for war and conflict that can heavily affect a population. These situations have even envied the creation of a special category to distinguish the level of hardship.
Refugee studies has populated academic research as more people become displaced by conflict and violence. Much of this research has been housed under migration studies and view these displacements as both psychologically and physically damaging. The attention to refugees is good, but could do more harm than good as David Edwards notes:
The creation of the category of refugees has facilitated the creation of bureaucratic responses the problem of displacement, but it also must be recognized that our application identifying categories to real people with their own categories of identifying and difference is an act that can have profound implications on how those who are termed refugees and those who deal with them interact and view themselves and one another (Edwards 314).
The creation of the refugee categories hasn’t seemed to help the Afghanistan situation because the category of refugee seems to be demeaning and connotes a sort of empathy that people abroad are supposed to feel about the situation. Unfortunately, these images of refugees and large migration movements are not new and do not compel the true peril and hardship associated with being driven from your home because of situations out of your control.
Afghanis do not woe in anguish about their situation because it is not new for them. The situation in Afghanistan predates the creation of the refugee category. This is to say that these people were not created because of the term, but the reality existed prior to the conceptualization of ‘refugee’. This is what Edwards means when he talks about the implications of labeling. He refers to Pakhtuns specifically and talks about how being a ‘refugee’ may not be a category that defines these people in how they see themselves, “for Pakhtuns, geographical dislocation does not necessarily cause cultural dislocation” (Edwards 317). Pakhtuns in Afghanistan at least do not correlate who they are to what they have. Instead, there is more focus and attention to lineage and honor than whether or not you have a roof over your head.
This cultural difference has important implications for NGO’s and other groups who are attempting to ‘save’ refugees in Afghanistan. It could be the case that these people do not need saving in the western aspect. Also, cultural values are different so approaches have to reflect those differences. A category should not automatically become an identity.