“Nobody wants to come here”

Filing: February 1, 2023, 11 a.m. GMT

Their journey begins with a humanitarian visa for Brazil: one of the few remaining exit routes for Afghans fleeing the Taliban regime.

It ends – after a perilous overland trek across Latin America through at least 11 countries – by scaling the border wall and jumping onto American soil.

More than a year after the chaotic US withdrawal from Kabul, the number of Afghans crossing the US-Mexico border to seek asylum in the United States has skyrocketed.

Every month, hundreds of people risk their lives to get there on a smuggling route notorious for kidnappings, robberies and assaults.

US border agents apprehended 2,132 Afghans last year – a nearly 30-fold increase from the previous year – nearly half of whom arrived in November and December, US government data shows.

Reuters spoke to a dozen Afghans who braved the trip. Eleven said they had arrived in the United States; Reuters was unable to confirm the fate of a person a reporter interviewed in Mexico. All said they were unable to start a new life in Brazil and instead headed north overland.

Several refugee advocates and former US officials said the growing number of Afghans trying to use the route reflected a failure both to resolve the humanitarian crisis inside Afghanistan and to provide support. suitable for those who leave.

“Just getting out of the country is difficult. And then if you do, that doesn’t mean you’re safe.

The United States has been slow to process visas, they say, and together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), it should do more to help other countries help Afghan refugees.

“Just getting out of the country is difficult. And if you do, that doesn’t mean you’re safe,” said Anne Richard, who served as US Assistant Secretary of Population, Refugees, and Migration from 2012 to 2017.

The State Department said in response to questions from Reuters that it had tried to expedite visa processing for “the brave Afghans who have stood with the United States for the past two decades” and that he had offered his support to governments to avoid “irregular migration”. He declined to comment on individual cases.

UNHCR said Brazil’s humanitarian visa program, which offers two-year residency and the right to work, study and apply for refugee status, is “an extremely important contribution”, but said shelters in the country are “overwhelmed”.

The Brazilian government did not respond to requests for comment.

About 4,000 Afghans have entered Brazil on humanitarian visas since the program began in September 2021, the US State Department said, with a significant increase in the final months of 2022.

Last year, 2,200 Afghans crossed the lawless jungle region between Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap – the only land route from South America to the US border – with nearly half in November and December. In 2021, only 24 Afghans crossed, according to Panamanian government data.

The Taliban administration spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on the escalating exodus. In recent weeks, Taliban spokesmen have declared that Afghanistan is the “homeland of all Afghans” and that those who have left can return.

Reuters focused on four journeys by Afghan migrants who reached the United States, corroborating key details of their accounts with emails, official documents, interviews with relatives and colleagues as well as videos, photos and voice memos sent during their travels.

Here are their stories.

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