Afghan Backgrounder

Afghan Backgrounder

This backgrounder contains historical, political, and cultural information intended to cultivate a general understanding of Afghans who are arriving to the U.S. The ongoing crisis in Afghanistan is complex and spans decades. CORE produced this backgrounder to aid U.S. Resettlement Agencies (RAs) and their local affiliates to provide culturally appropriate Cultural Orientation (CO) and other services to newly arrived Afghans. The information provided is intended as guidance and does not represent the needs and challenges of all Afghans. As such, resettlement staff are encouraged to adapt their services as appropriate.

This page was last updated October 26th, 2021.

Current Situation—The Return of the Taliban

Afghanistan is now experiencing a humanitarian crisis. The Taliban have reintroduced strict controls on personal freedoms and are curtailing, if not reversing, the country’s 20 years of work towards progress and development. In particular, the Taliban are targeting basic human rights (e.g., the right to education and the rights of women, girls, and minorities) and are sending the country towards an economic collapse. Their campaign has sparked a mass exodus which prompted the U.S. and other international governments to carry out a rapid evacuation process. This turbulent and traumatic process upended lives, causing high levels of immediate or long-term mental health conditions. Considering the context and conditions from which Afghans are fleeing will help service providers better assist these new arrivals.

Pathways to Resettlement

Evacuated Afghans who are not SIV holders or do not qualify for the SIV program may be granted humanitarian parole in the US under Operation Allies Welcome, an interagency effort led by the Department of Homeland Security.

The parole status is for a period of two years. Under the Afghan Parolee Assistance program and the recent stopgap funding bill signed into law by President Biden, new arrivals temporarily have access to services from resettlement agencies and qualify for other federal benefits. Parole does not provide a path to legal immigration status. As such, those paroled will need to work with an immigration lawyer or accredited representative with expertise in humanitarian immigration issues to explore options for pursuing permanent immigration status, such as asylum and special immigrant visas, as well as family-based immigration laws.

While Afghans who arrived in the U.S. as part of Operations Allies Refuge have reached a safe haven from the Taliban, their sudden and chaotic departure was dangerous and traumatic. Many left behind everything including family, friends, and livelihoods.

The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was created to protect interpreters and other Afghans who worked closely with American forces from retaliation by the Taliban. SIV holders arrive in the U.S. as legal permanent residents eligible to work and access resettlement services. During the drawdown of U.S. troops in the summer of 2021, more than 100,000 SIV holders, applicants, and other Afghans were airlifted to safety, some arriving in the U.S. where they were temporarily accommodated at military installations around the country. Many more were accommodated at overseas U.S. bases awaiting further processing and resettlement. Additionally, many Afghans have fled to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and other countries of asylum causing UNHCR to call on all countries to recognize their right to seek asylum and respect principles of non-refoulement. More often than not, Afghans outside their country face dire circumstances like harsh weather, food shortages, unsanitary living conditions, and hostility from the host communities in these first-asylum countries.

In  August, the Department of State announced the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals. This program is for certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members that may not be eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa, but may at risk due to their U.S. affiliation.




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  • Afghanistan is a diverse country. There are more than 19 different ethnic groups that bring with them a long history and a rich culture. Ethnic affiliation is the most significant organizing principle in parts of rural Afghan society. This includes their tribal governmental system.

    As the ethnic majority, the Pashtuns constitute an estimated 38% of the population. The language of the Pashtuns is Pashto, but like most Persian words, it has many spelling variations in English. Traditionally, the Pashtuns were small farmers and semi-nomads that moved flocks of sheep, goats, and camels from pasture to pasture.

    The Tajiks constitute 25% of the Afghan population. The Tajiks are an influential ethnic group that speak Dari, one of Afghanistan’s official languages. Dari has always been the prestige language in Afghanistan due to the vast cultural and literary tradition of the language. In Afghanistan, all education above primary school is conducted in Dari. As such, all educated Afghans are fluent in Dari, regardless of their ethnic group.

    A second Dari-speaking group, the Hazaras, are Mongolian descendants that were traditional nomads. The Hazaras constitute approximately 19% of the population. Some other minority ethnic groups include the Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq and Beluchi.

Interethnic Tensions


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Additional Resources

The following are additional resources that may assist resettlement staff in delivering Cultural Orientation. Coming soon: CORE will update this page with more guidance and tips on specific Cultural Orientation topics.