How Is IOM Supporting Afghans Who Return to the Country?

Pushed out of their nation of origin for reasons that include war and extreme poverty, Afghans have increasingly been returning home in recent years. From 2012 to 2017, nearly 3.5 million natives of the country made their way back into one of 15 Afghan provinces from abroad, according to the International Organization for Migration. This total includes more than 398,000 people migrating back to Afghanistan from Iran.

With the Iranian economy worsening, 2018 has seen these numbers spike even more. From January 1 to June 9, over 320,000 members of the Afghan diaspora migrated from Iran, a rate nearly double of that seen during the same period in 2017. Unfortunately, whether these individuals have been deported or chosen to cross back into Afghanistan of their own accord, many lack sufficient financial resources and require protection and support.

 

Reaching Out to Afghan Migrants in Need

IOMlogoThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) recognizes the challenges faced by returning Afghan migrants and is engaging in ongoing efforts to aid these individuals. Founded in 1951, IOM has a long history of assisting in efforts that benefit migrants.

In its earliest years, IOM focused on helping European governments identify where to resettle the approximately 11 million people displaced by World War II. The organization has expanded its mandate over the ensuing decades. Today, it holds distinction as the world’s foremost migration agency and is active in more than 150 countries.

These countries include Afghanistan, where IOM has maintained a presence since 1992. Among the organization’s largest missions, IOM Afghanistan commits itself to benefiting migrants and society by facilitating orderly and humane migration. Since 2007, the mission has specifically concentrated on supporting Afghans relocating from Iran. Through a network of transit and screening facilities located on the border between the two countries, IOM provides case management and humanitarian assistance to individuals whose gender, age, and health, among other factors, make them highly vulnerable.

For some of these highly vulnerable individuals, the issues they face are as serious as potential impending death. IOM estimates, in fact, that a minimum of 30 percent of all Afghans migrating from Iran require life-saving humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, as of May of 2018, the agency stands equipped to help only about 7 percent of these individuals.

 

Italian Donation Augments IOM Afghanistan’s Border Services

Recognizing the need for enhanced migration services in Afghanistan, Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperated announced in May 2018 a donation of €1 million to IOM Afghanistan. The funding will help to pay for IOM’s humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan’s Nimroz and Herat provinces, both of which border Iran.

In Nimroz, the funding will specifically allow for the construction of a transit center. Through this facility, IOM will offer more effective registration and screening of migrants. In Herat, meanwhile, IOM health staff will undergo training that will enable them to provide psychosocial support to returning Afghans. The funding will further cover the cost of monitoring surveys used by IOM and its partners to shape humanitarian responses.

 

IOM Encourages Migration of Skilled Afghans from Iran

Of the 3 million Afghans living in Iran, many do not require humanitarian aid when relocating back home. In fact, they may have valuable qualifications that can potentially benefit their native country. Among these individuals is Foruzan Faghiri, a 29-year-old Afghan-born physicist who was profiled in June of 2018 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Forced by war to flee to Iran when she was 3, Ms. Faghiri has gone on to find success in her adopted country. She invented an inexpensive, easy-to-use pollution monitor that has earned praise on both sides of the Afghanistan-Iran border. Yet, despite her accomplishments abroad, she still desires to return home to Afghanistan.

To help skilled individuals like Ms. Faghiri bring their expertise back to Afghanistan, IOM has created the Return of Qualified Afghans (RQA) program. Since its inception in 2001, the program has facilitated the homecoming of 1,665 members of the Afghan diaspora, including more than 600 Afghans who formerly resided in Iran.

These individuals, who have valuable qualifications in areas such as engineering, IT, and health care, return to Afghanistan with the intention of aiding in the recovery and development of their country of origin. This goal is shared by organizations like the Aga Khan Development Network.

 

RQA Program Celebrates Success, Earns Additional Funding

In 2017-18 alone, the RQA program enabled the return of 20 Afghans from Iran. To recognize this success, IOM held an event in Kabul in April of 2018.

At the event, participants in the RQA program shared their stories about relocating back to Afghanistan and being connected with positions at the country’s Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, Ministry of Energy and Water, and other agencies. Speakers reflected positively on their experience in the program and urged other members of the Afghan diaspora to participate.

Outside of celebrating the program and its participants, the event recognized the contributions of the government of Japan. Japan has funded the RQA program since 2008 and currently serves as the program’s sole sponsor. In remarks prepared for the event by Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, the East Asian nation announced that it will continue its support of the RQA program with a $1 million contribution in 2018-19.

The Bayat Foundation Supports Higher Education for Afghans

Founded by Fatema and Ehsan Bayat in 2006, the Bayat Foundation aims to provide hope and assistance to Afghans in need while working to rebuild the country. A 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in the United States, the foundation focuses on initiatives designed to improve the health and well-being of all Afghans.

The Bayat Foundation also maintains a commitment to closing the educational gap in the country. To this end, it has undertaken a number of projects designed to enhance academic opportunities in Afghanistan for everyone from children to college students. For example, the nonprofit has provided a range of support to learning centers that serve refugees and young people who have been orphaned, among other vulnerable groups. Another recipient of the foundation’s assistance has been institutions of higher learning, most notably the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF).

 

American University of Afghanistan Receives Assistance

American University of AfghanistanLocated in Kabul, the American University of Afghanistan holds distinction as the country’s only private, nonprofit, independent, co-ed, nonsectarian institution of higher learning. AUAF, which awards undergraduate degrees in four areas of study and master’s degrees in two, has graduated nearly 1,000 students since opening in 2006. Graduates of AUAF have gone on to secure high-level positions with the Afghan government, as well as national and international organizations. Other graduates of AUAF have gained admission to universities in countries around the world.

AUAF holds accreditation from the Ministry of Higher Education and maintains partnerships with Stanford University, Georgetown University, the University of California system, as well as other institutions in the United States and Middle East. Through these relationships, the institution strives to ensure that it continues to provide students with a world-class education.

In order to help AUAF to achieve its goals, the Bayat Foundation recently underwrote the construction of the university’s new Bayat Institute of Technology, which opened in spring 2018. The 32,000-square-foot academic center houses seven laboratories, six lecture halls, and a library. At these state-of-the-art facilities, students and educators have an opportunity to take part in demanding research and teaching, which has the effect of expanding Afghanistan’s technical, scientific, and engineering knowledge. The center also provides support to Afghan-led innovation and entrepreneurship in the fields of technology and science.

 

Completion of the Bayat Institute of Technology

The Bayat Institute of Technology, which also consists of 22 faculty offices, two prayer halls, a rooftop leisure center, and an atrium social center, was built using sustainable design and construction methods. Air circulates naturally through the atrium, while myriad windows allow for ample natural light. LED lighting has also been employed, as has repurposed marble.

The marble has been integrated with aluminum, porcelain, and gypsum to create an architecturally sound, earthquake-resistant structure. What’s more, the Bayat Institute of Technology’s radiant alabaster-colored exterior and other architectural and design elements coalesce to produce a distinguished-looking building that stands out as a marvel of Afghan craftsmanship.

In addition to underwriting the construction of the Bayat Institute of Technology, the Bayat Foundation has established a $1 million endowment fund, which will cover the operational costs of the building for the next decade. This ongoing support will extend what Ehsan Bayat calls an “unbreakable partnership” between the foundation and AUAF.

In previous years, this partnership has seen the Bayat Foundation work to improve other facilities on AUAF’s Kabul campus. In 2009, the nonprofit assisted AUAF in renovating the school gymnasium. Five years later, it again enhanced the gymnasium, this time reconstructing it. Now known as the Michelle Bayat Gymnasium, the facility benefited from the addition of new flooring, basketball hoops, and exercise spaces. The 2014 renovation also included the addition of new ventilation, plumbing, and electrical systems.

 

Foundation Donates Textbooks to Nangarhar University

The Bayat Foundation’s support of higher education does not end with AUAF. Over the years, the nonprofit has drawn on its resources to furnish quality textbooks to universities throughout Afghanistan. In 2014, Nangarhar University received a generous donation of textbooks, which the foundation provided with the cooperation of the international humanitarian nonprofit Operation Compassion.

Located in Jalalabad, Nangarhar University has offered a quality education to Afghans since it opened in 1963. Solely a medical school at the time of its inception, the institution has since expanded to comprise 13 colleges and 73 departments. Currently, 467 lecturers instruct 14,004 students in the university’s wide-ranging bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs.

Due to the Bayat Foundation’s donation, Nangarhar University will be able to continue to expand the knowledge of its students in the coming years. In the past, the foundation has also facilitated textbook donations for Maimana University, an institution located in Faryab Province.

The Bayat Foundation encourages anyone who is passionate about improving the education, health, and well-being of Afghans to support its various initiatives. Individuals can make a donation or engage in a number of other fund-raising efforts, such as participating in a charitable-matching program at their workplace. The nonprofit also welcomes the assistance of volunteers, sponsors, and public speakers to help spread the word about its important work.

Spotlight on the Next Generation of Afghan Tech Entrepreneurs

As Afghanistan rebuilds after years of conflict, a new wave of young, ambitious Afghans are slowly but surely revitalizing the country’s tech sector, but they’re not doing it alone. Startup Grind Afghanistan is one of a number of organizations dedicated to supporting the next generation of forward-thinking Afghan entrepreneurs and ensuring they have the tools, knowledge, and connections they need to succeed.

As a result of this help, the future is looking brighter than ever for Afghanistan-based startups. Read on to learn more.

 

What is Startup Grind Afghanistan?

startupgrindStartup Grind Afghanistan is a member of a global startup community known as Startup Grind, which is a connected network of vibrant new startups. Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Grind was created with a mission to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs around the world.

In support of this goal, the organization hosts regular events in more than 250 cities. These events bring the personal stories, life lessons, and knowledge of successful founders, innovators, educators, and investors to emerging entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their own paths to success.

Driven by the values of connecting, giving back, and helping others before helping yourself, Startup Grind now has local chapters in 350 cities worldwide. It has supported the startup journeys of more than one million entrepreneurs.

Startup Grind Afghanistan, also called Startup Grind Kabul, is Afghanistan’s local Startup Grind Chapter. It was launched by Ahmad Fahim Didar, the CEO and founder of Aghaez Consulting Group, who is passionate about entrepreneurship because it allows individuals and groups to create businesses that truly reflect their values.

Didar first conceived the idea of launching a Kabul chapter of Startup Grind in 2014. In August of that year, he contacted Startup Grind’s founder and CEO and applied to be a Startup Grind local director. Although his application was accepted, Didar wasn’t quite ready to commit at that time given Afghanistan’s tense political and economic environment. A year later, however, he dedicated himself to building a startup community in Afghanistan, and Startup Grind Afghanistan/Kabul was born.

 

How does Startup Grind Afghanistan support entrepreneurs?

startup

Startup Grind Afghanistan is working to build a thriving startup community in Afghanistan by showing young people that entrepreneurship is not only possible, but is a viable career choice and way of life. By sharing stories of successful entrepreneurs and providing support and tools, Ahmad Fahim Didar and Startup Grind Afghanistan want to encourage young Afghan graduates to be proactive about their own futures and the role they can play in rebuilding and revitalizing their country.

As Didar has said in previous interviews, changing young people’s mindsets from “the government needs to create jobs for Afghans” to “what can I do to create jobs at the micro level?” is one of Startup Grind Afghanistan’s most important endeavors.

Practically speaking, Startup Grind Afghanistan also offers regular events, networking opportunities, and other resources, tools, and support to emerging entrepreneurs and startups. For example, at the Startup Grind launch event, participants attended information sessions on topics covering everything from how to make the leap from having an idea to starting a company, to the benefits of working with a mentor, to practical ideas for securing startup financing.

In addition, Startup Grind Afghanistan’s regular speaker series, held on a monthly or bi-monthly basis since early 2016, features presentations from some of Afghanistan’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. These include Farshid Gyashi, the founder of Afghanistan’s largest job website.

 

What do Afghan startups need and what are some of their biggest challenges?

According to Didar, the most important thing that Afghan startups need right now is inspiration and awareness. Entrepreneurs need to believe that they can succeed and attain a higher profile within the startup community, both locally and internationally. Didar also believes that facilities—like incubator and accelerator hubs and co-working spaces—are essential for giving startups not only the physical space they need to create and develop their ideas, but also the connection and support of a community of their peers.

The need for facilities links naturally to the question of the challenges faced by Afghan startups. Of these, a lack of resources for larger-scale initiatives like incubator centers and co-working facilities is one of the biggest. It should be mentioned here that a few of these facilities do currently exist. They include the DAFTAR co-working space, Afghanistan’s first ever co-working facility established by the Afghanistan Center for Excellence, and the Ibtikaar tech incubation center.

However, Didar believes many more facilities are needed to help grow the Afghan startup community, particularly in areas outside Kabul. Other challenges that affect Afghan entrepreneurs include a lack of formal government support for startups, as well as a lack of clarity in government rules and regulations, especially when it comes to taxation.