afghan refugeesThe recent resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has sparked fear in Afghan citizens, resulting in large numbers of Afghans fleeing Afghanistan to seek refuge in other countries. Some countries have welcomed Afghan refugees with open arms, but others simply do not have the capacity to host large groups of refugees. As many countries around the world scurry to help Afghan refugees find shelter, Airbnb has stepped up to help. “The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up,” says Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky.

Airbnb to the Rescue

On August 24, 2021, Airbnb announced the offering of “free temporary housing” for roughly 20,000 Afghan refugees across the globe. Two days after, on August 26, the company added that any ordinary individual, not just the company’s “hosts,” can offer temporary housing through its services. This may potentially open up substantially more temporary housing options. For Afghan refugees, this offer of temporary shelter could bring some stability amid a crisis. For world governments, temporary housing could be key to avoiding a repeat of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Airbnb’s plan comes through its Open Homes platform, a tool created by the company in 2017 after former President Trump’s administration implemented a travel ban on several predominantly Muslim nations, including war-torn and heavily displaced Syria. At the time, countries such as Germany were grappling with a surge of refugees from Syria. Airbnb’s plan in 2017 looked to “provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need.” The company is building on that promise through the Open Homes platform.

How the Open Homes Platform Works

The purpose of Open Homes is to “Give people a place to call home in times of crisis.” Open Homes serves as a middle ground for refugees from Afghanistan and other conflicted nations to create a plan for more permanent housing. Airbnb’s platform works as a tool for hosts to open their homes to screened and approved guests including refugees. According to the company’s website, hosts receive a guide on the process of listing their home as a temporary residence.

The process is similar to Airbnb’s staple rental service. However, Airbnb’s announcement on August 26 made it clear that more than established hosts can use the platform to help. The platform relies on donations to cover the costs of temporary housing. Donations can be made by anyone willing to help cover the costs of refugee stays. For Afghan refugees, the platform is established and tested and may serve as an important tool in navigating the crisis.

The Importance of Temporary Housing

By definition, a refugee is an individual that cannot return to their home country due to reasons that jeopardize their safety and well-being. As the Afghan refugee crisis begins, there is precedent that can serve as guidance for how the U.S. can address this humanitarian issue. From past refugee crises, humanitarian groups find that shelter is one of the most important aspects of addressing the issue. Without a place to call home, refugees are denied the basic rights to adequate shelter and safety.

Temporary housing provides safety while refugees find more stable living situations. An influx of refugees with no place to go places greater strain on governmental agencies. This also potentially means more taxpayer money would go toward temporary housing subsidies and the governmental mediation of desperate refugees. Private options such as Open Homes can supplement the burden that the government and taxpayers struggle to fill.

According to the nonprofit Refugees Welcome!, asylum seekers lack “access to housing, food stamps or other benefits afforded to documented immigrants or citizens.” For people forcibly displaced by conflict such as current Afghan refugees, programs such as Open Homes provide a solution to the lack of safe and proper shelter for influxes of refugees. Open Homes may be the only viable option for families forced out of a nation.

To help address the Afghan refugee crisis, Airbnb’s Open Homes platform provides a commendable solution. Even an ordinary individual can get involved in this initiative, providing hope to vulnerable people with no place to call home.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr

Unemployment in AfghanistanAs coalition forces have withdrawn from the country, unemployment in Afghanistan has increased dramatically, hitting 40 percent in 2015 according to the United Nations Development Programme. Afghanistan has not seen unemployment rates this high since 2005.

Afghans have been caught in a vise of lost employment from decreased U.S. military expenditures in the country and a decrease in foreign aid expenditures. The withdrawal of security forces is also linked to increased violence in the country, leading to additional economic instability.

Though President Obama gave the order to slow the withdrawal of non-combat troops from the country in July, the drawdown continues. The new plan involves keeping 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into 2017, down from the current number of 10,000.

This news comes at a time when many Afghans rely on employment in service industries surrounding the foreign military presence in Afghanistan which stems back nearly 15 years.

Political instability and security concerns amid rising violence have also negatively impacted economic growth in the country. According to a report by the World Bank, economic growth in Afghanistan made only a modest gain from 1.3 percent in 2014 to 1.5 percent in 2015.

The sluggish economic growth and pronounced unemployment in Afghanistan has led to a spike in poverty as the rate increased from 35.8 percent in 2011-12 to 39.1 percent in 2013-14.

Faced with unemployment, poverty and violence, many young people in Afghanistan have made the choice to flee the country. Seeking a better life in Europe and the U.S., the young workers have joined the stream of refugees fleeing conditions in the Middle East.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Afghans made up about 20 percent of the over 1 million refugees arriving in Europe in 2015. Many of those leaving are young adults who are desperately needed to help rebuild the war-torn country. Efforts by the Afghan government to stem the exodus have not found success.

Speaking about the unemployment crisis, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham said, “Everybody anticipated that this was going to be a problem because of the drop-off in the economic opportunity after the bulk of international forces were transiting out. Unfortunately, the government effort to reorganize itself to deal with the economy didn’t materialize as they had hoped.”

Continued unemployment in Afghanistan will bolster instability as additional people flee the country or become susceptible to extremism. It remains to be seen if the country will descend into the same failed-state status it held prior to the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Will Sweger

Photo: Flickr