According to The Guardian's article from April 1, titled "Afghanistan braces for coronavirus surge as migrants pour back from Iran," over 130,000 Afghans have already returned home.
The outlet reported that they're fleeing the Mideast epicenter of this global pandemic, which has been among the hardest-hit countries in the world.
The recent shutdown there has made it extremely difficult for migrant workers and refugees alike to continue to make a living, and many of them are also understandably afraid of contracting the disease too. These interconnected factors contributed to a massive wave of reverse-migration back to Afghanistan.
It certainly says a lot that some of those who fled the nearly two-decade-long war in Afghanistan feel safer returning to this active conflict zone than remaining where they are and confronting the invisible enemy of COVID-19.
The Guardian reminded its readers about the unsanitary and underdeveloped conditions in their homeland, and ominously cited the Afghan Ministry of Health's earlier warning that up to 16 million people might catch this disease, with possible deaths numbering in the "tens of thousands."
Observers are concerned that some of these returnees might be asymptomatic carriers of the virus and therefore unwittingly spread it all throughout the country on their way back to their homes in both the country's urban and rural areas.
Most of the 174 confirmed cases are concentrated in the border region, but Afghanistan doesn't have the capability to test all of the new arrivals, nor adequately track their contacts once it's determined that they've been infected. This raises fears that a serious humanitarian crisis is in the making.
Afghanistan has found itself more dependent on Pakistan for its survival than ever before considering that Iran is the Mideast epicenter of this global pandemic, the Central Asian Republics have closed their borders, and the country's narrow mountainous border with China doesn't yet have the proper infrastructure for facilitating the large-scale import of essential products.
Pakistan, despite having earlier closed its border with Afghanistan, will still allow its neighbor to import food and medicine according to the Afghan Ambassador in Islamabad.
That decision is nothing short of a lifeline that might soon prove crucial for saving countless Afghan lives, which in turn could also save the recent progress that's been made on the Afghan peace process as well.
In the worst-case scenario of an uncontrollable COVID-19 outbreak in the country, some people might become even more desperate than before and therefore fall further under the influence of various armed groups, be they the Taliban (which nowadays functions as the de-facto opposition) or ISIL terrorists.
The further breakdown of law and order as a result of an increasingly desperate population turning to militancy as COVID-19 ravages their villages could be catastrophic for a government that's already struggling to enforce its writ throughout every corner of the country.
That scenario would almost certainly result in a reversal of the progress that's recently been made on the fledgling Afghan peace process, which could directly and indirectly endanger even more lives in the long run if there's a return to war on the same scale as before.
Thus, what Afghanistan needs more than ever is international assistance to ensure that it has the proper means for tackling this crisis. Without adequate resources (be they physical, financial or personnel), the country will be unable to contain any potential viral outbreak.
Pakistan is doing its part by allowing the import of food and medicine, but the international community must urgently step up and provide all necessary aid to Afghanistan in order to prevent COVID-19 from killing thousands of people and possibly capsizing the peace process too.
Thursday 2 April 2020 13:53