As a huge stream of people flees Afghanistan after the country's takeover by the Taliban, questions are opening up about where these refugees will go. After leaving behind their homes, they will be looking for shelter and one company has announced that it's stepping up to assist them. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky tweeted that the company will be hosting 20,000 Afghan refugees globally starting immediately.
Though it is not clear how long the housing offer will last, the company will be paying for stays in the homes available on its platform. The funding comes directly from Airbnb, Chesky, and donors to the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund. “The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the US and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time,” Chesky stated. “We feel a responsibility to step up.”
Chesky mentioned that they'll be working closely with local partners and NGOs in order to ensure that they're meeting the most pressing needs. Already they've worked with partners to provide housing to 165 refugees who recently arrived in America. He hopes that Airbnb's actions will spur other large businesses to get involved and help out with the crisis.
This is not the first time that Airbnb has offered its housing in times of need. Through its non-profit branch Airbnb.org, the company says that it has hosted 75,000 people since 2012. The idea was born when a local host contacted Airbnb after Hurricane Sandy hit New York to see if she could offer her home for free. Since then, Airbnb has worked to provide homes to those displaced by wildfires, refugees and asylum seekers, and frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting today, Airbnb will begin housing 20,000 Afghan refugees globally for free.
— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) August 24, 2021
So where are those that leave Afghanistan headed? Typically, neighboring countries Pakistan and Iran take in the most Afghan refugees. In 2020, 1.45 million refugees arrived in Pakistan, while 780,000 settled in Iran. Coming in a distant third, with 181,100 refugees, was Germany. However, the current landscape is quite different. With the Taliban controlling the border crossings into Pakistan and Iran, those looking to exit the country by land are being blocked. While there are small camps set up along the borders for Pakistan and Iran, most people looking to leave on foot will likely remain trapped inside the country for now.
The United States, for its part, has said that the current evacuation mission has assisted 60,000 people in leaving the country. It's not clear how many of those people are locals. In 2020, the United States hosted 1,592 refugees from Afghanistan. Though President Biden has repeatedly stated that locals who assisted the United States during its 20-year mission in Afghanistan will be provided assistance, the reality is murky.
Update: Airbnb has announced that 5,000 hosts on Airbnb have offered to provide free or discounted stays to Afghan refugees. People can donate or host via a special site set up for the project. This, coupled with donations, will allow the company to provide an additional 20,000 Afghan refugees with housing if the demand for housing aligns with supplies in resettlement communities.
The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program has existed since 2009 as a way for locals who worked with the U.S. government to settle in America. A huge backlog of applications has meant that it can take months, and in many cases years, to go through the vetting process. Currently, the State Department said that, as of July, there were 20,000 applications in various stages. Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, works with many applicants on this often frustrating process.
“Many of our clients, the reason that they're stuck in the SIV process for years on years is because they're stuck in the vetting process,” he told CNN. “The US vetting—it's basically a black box. You put your name in and you hope the name comes out. You don't know what's happening and you don't know why it's taking years.”
Right now, those being evacuated from the Kabul Airport are being transferred to Kuwait and Qatar in order for a vetting process to be carried out. From there, they will then be relocated to the United States or other countries accepting refugees. Presumably, it's there that Airbnb will step in with the help of its partners to help them get settled in. It's a generous, and much-needed, gesture that hopefully more businesses will also extend in this time of crisis.
h/t: [NBC News]