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.

What You Need to Know about the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

UNESCO logoIn 2015, the city of Bamiyan became the first urban center not only from Afghanistan, but from all of Central Asia, to become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). This unique global network fosters and facilitates cooperation between its members as they work to invest in creativity in order to drive sustainable urban development, social inclusion, and a vibrant cultural life. Read on to learn more about the UCCN’s mission and activities, and about Bamiyan’s membership in the network.

 

What is the UNESCO Creative Cities Network?

The UCCN is an international network of cities that have identified creativity as a key strategic factor in promoting sustainable urban development and are actively investing in local creative initiatives to help bring economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits to their residents. In other words, the UCCN’s member cities place creative and cultural industries at the center of their local development plans and are interested in cooperating at the international level to share knowledge and best practices and develop fruitful partnerships.

Launched in 2004, the UCCN has seen remarkable growth over the years. Today, the network comprises 180 cities from 72 countries all around the world—from Adelaide to Zahlé—and serves as an important partner for UNESCO in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that drive the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UCCN covers seven creative fields, including crafts and folk art, film, design, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music.

 

What are the UCCN’s objectives?

As outlined in its mission statement, the UCCN was created to help fulfill a number of key objectives, including the following:

Cooperation—Because knowledge sharing and partnerships are vital for productive growth, the UCCN aims to promote and strengthen international cooperation among its member cities.

Creative initiatives—The UCCN aims to support and stimulate member cities’ initiatives that emphasize creativity as an essential component of urban development (these initiatives often involve local partnerships between the public and private sectors and civil society).

Cultural production—Cultural activities, goods, and services are an important part of a thriving creative economy. As such, the UCCN aims to strengthen their creation, production, distribution, and dissemination within and beyond member cities.

Opportunity creation—The UCCN aims to develop and support creative and innovative hubs in order to broaden opportunities for cultural sector professionals and creators.

Access—For creative and cultural initiatives to make a true difference to a city’s social fabric, they must be accessible to all residents. A key UCCN objective is therefore to facilitate vulnerable and marginalized populations’ access to and participation in their city’s cultural life.

Integration—The UCCN supports the full and comprehensive integration of culture and creativity into its member cities’ development strategies and plans.

 

 

What actions and initiatives does the UCCN work on?

For maximum impact, the UCCN works to implement its objectives at both the city level and the international level. Particular areas of action the UCCN focuses on include the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and best practices among member cities; the development of pilot projects, partnerships, and initiatives that bring together the public sector, the private sector, and civil society; exchange programs and networks for artists and other creative professionals; research and studies on the experience of member cities and their participation in the network; policy creation for sustainable urban development; and other activities that build awareness of the UCCN and its mission.

 

Why is creativity important for cities?

The UCCN strongly believes that people experience culture and creativity primarily on a local level. Given that cities are, by definition, the principal breeding grounds where cultural and creative industries and emerge and develop, those cities that allow these industries to thrive are working towards a future in which sustainable development supports and enriches the lives of all citizens. Vibrant cultural sectors help to foster social diversity and cohesion, intercultural dialogue, and well-being, all of which are vital to local urban populations, wherever they may be.

 

Why was Bamiyan chosen as a UCCN member city?

Bamiyan, which was chosen in the category of crafts and folk art, has a wealth of cultural assets and knowledge that have developed over millennia, particularly during the city’s time as a hub of trade, cultural exchange, and knowledge sharing in the days of the Silk Road. Today, Bamiyan is widely recognized as a trailblazer in revitalizing traditional crafts and folk art, and it prioritizes creativity and culture as important drivers for urban renewal and social betterment. As a member of the UCCN, Bamiyan’s plans include the establishment of the Bamiyan Cultural Center and the development of an initiative to map the city’s creative industries and to identify the highest-priority needs of local creators. Bamiyan is also supporting cooperative exchanges with other UCCN member cities in the same field and directing efforts to promote the city at the national and international levels as a hub of crafts and folk art.