as a partner for regulating global migration flows

01 — The key questions for the Partner-Atlas

RELEVANCE: What relevance does Afghanistan have for Germany with regards to "regulating global migration flows"?

For decades, Afghanistan was the country with the largest diaspora in the world. In 2015, this position was taken by Syria. Afghanistan looks back on 40 years of fleeing refugees, emigration and expulsion due to civil war, violence and destroyed livelihoods. Since 2001, the country has been one of Germany’s most important security partners in the Middle East. Afghanistan is also a reliable partner in migration policy and has never used migration flows as political leverage.

After Syrians, Afghans are the second largest group of refugees worldwide. The majority of the Afghan diaspora (91 percent) is located in Iran and Pakistan. Destination countries for Afghans are Iran (63 percent), Pakistan (22 percent), Turkey and Europe (12 percent). Afghanistan also has more than 2 million internally displaced persons. In the past six years, around a third of the Afghan population has been internationally or internally displaced or has emigrated.

During the major refugee flows in 2015, around 154,000 Afghans came to Germany; by 2016 the number had fallen to 50,000. The number of asylum applications by Afghans in Germany dropped to less than 10,000 as of 2018. Since 2016, more than two million Afghans have returned from Iran and Pakistan. The reason is a stricter approach by the Iranian and Pakistani authorities as well as the deteriorating economic situation in neighbouring countries.

The main causes of fleeing refugees and migration from Afghanistan are poverty and lack of economic prospects, ongoing fighting and violence, recurring droughts and floods. 54.8 percent of people live below the poverty line. According to the Global Peace Index, Afghanistan is the least peaceful country in the world. Fighting and attacks have led to the deaths of 45,000 people in the past five years. Despite the Doha Agreement concluded between the USA and the Taliban in February and the start of intra-Afghan peace negotiations in September 2020 in Doha, neither an end to the violence nor an economic upturn appear likely in the near term.

The coronavirus pandemic has intensified the situation from the beginning of the year, which could make Afghanistan a country with one of the highest infection rates worldwide due to poor hygiene conditions and low state capacity for treatment or testing of COVID-19 or for health education. The coronavirus crisis will have a delayed and indirect effect on migration flows. Afghanistan’s rentier state economy is still poorly integrated globally or regionally and is instead existentially dependent on international aid funds. A reduction in international funds– as a result of the impending withdrawal of NATO or a possible global economic crisis – would hit the country hardest economically and lead to emigration.

Afghanistan will remain a country of origin for refugees and migrants for the foreseeable future. Decades of experience with fleeing refugees, emigration and the loss of skilled workers, but also with the return of emigrants and knowledge transfer to Afghanistan, make the country a test case for how migration flows can have a long-term impact and how they can be regulated and utilised.

WILLINGNESS: To what extent is Afghanistan willing to work with Germany in realising this interest?

The Afghan government has always supported German efforts to regulate migration. Germany’s deportation of Afghan citizens was the litmus test for Afghan-German cooperation.

Germany began carrying out deportations to Afghanistan for the first time in 2016. Particularly in the first few years, the repatriations received considerable critical attention from the Afghan and international media and put the Afghan government under public pressure.

Deportations from Germany had been unthinkable for the Afghan government until 2016; they had always relied on receiving special treatment due to historically close Afghan-German relations. Nevertheless, Afghanistan supports the German policy.

German and Afghan authorities, such as the German embassy in Kabul and the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, cooperate closely on each repatriation. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) provides initial support and helps with finding employment for the returnees.

STATUS QUO: How close is Germany and Afghanistan's current cooperation in this area?

Germany is the second largest NATO supplier of troops and second largest donor country in development cooperation. In 2019, Germany provided around 400 million euros in development funding for Afghanistan. German institutions, such as the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), are involved in the areas of water supply, energy, education, health, economy and employment, in order to create prospects that will cause the young Afghan population to remain.

The Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM), a joint operation of GIZ and the German Federal Employment Agency (BA), arranges the return of skilled workers and professionals. Thirteen Afghan-Germans are currently working as CIM specialists in key positions within ministries, state institutions and associations.

POTENTIAL: What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Afghanistan in this area?

Despite the deportation policy that started in 2016, Germany continues to enjoy a high level of trust and goodwill with the Afghan government and population – and this pledge of confidence is Germany’s greatest asset.

Still untapped potential exists in the case of dual nationals educated in Germany. Even back in the 1960s, Afghans were coming to Germany to study at universities. They serve today as pioneers for investments and private-sector initiatives in Afghanistan.

After a twenty-year NATO mission, the Afghanistan of 2020 is at a turning point. The Doha Agreement between the USA and the Taliban regulates the gradual withdrawal of foreign troops. Afghanistan will be seeking new allies after NATO’s withdrawal. Neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Iran, China, India or Russia have a vital interest in shaping the regional order. Germany has a special role due to its hundred years of special relations with Afghanistan; it is valued as an ally and as an economic and development partner by both pro-Western and critical opposition camps. The peace process offers Germany and Afghanistan an opportunity to rethink their bilateral relations and to strengthen them via open and honest dialogue.

POLICY RECOMMENDATION: What in German foreign policy has to change in order to fully exploit this potential?

If migration is to be better managed in future, in addition to long-term investment in people’s basic needs and employment conditions, there is also a need to broadly raise awareness regarding the risks and prospects for people looking to migrate, to promote voluntary returns and private investments in a targeted way, and to facilitate the exchange of specialist knowledge.

The local authorities, the media and various associations – particularly in Afghanistan – must bring an extensive awareness-raising campaign to the local debate. The young population needs a realistic picture of the risks to health and of the financial and social dangers associated with being a refugee and with migration, and to know what the honest alternatives are.

International aid could probably be reduced with the withdrawal of NATO, and so private sector initiatives and investments should be encouraged at an early stage. Many well-trained Afghans at home or in exile want to invest in their country but need incentives and reliable local networks.

Emigration of skilled workers to Germany should be supplemented with flexible exchange programmes. Well-educated Afghans are often only seeking to further their professional training and career or to live abroad in the short term. These people would benefit from fellowship programmes, specialist exchanges (for example for journalists, researchers, parliamentarians or artists) as well as from faster and less bureaucratic visa procedures for business, research or short-term stays.

Ellinor Zeino heads the KAS office in Afghanistan.


  • Population: 38,928,346
  • Capital: Kabul
  • Interest: Regulating Global Migration Flows
  • Region: Asia and the Pacific
  • Potential partner countries: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan

04 — The region

Asia and the Pacific



For Germany, Japan is one of the most important economic and value partners in Asia. In addition to the wish for jointly maintaining and further developing the multilateral order, there is also the desire for closer cooperation in future technologies. Japan and Germany face similar challenges, particularly in regard to the future of industrial production and the demographic development of their societies.

  • Population: 126,476,461
  • Capital: Tokyo


Germany has a vital interest in maintaining and consolidating a world order based on the values of liberal democracy and on the centrality of the United Nations (UN). Given the USA’s global withdrawal, which the coronavirus pandemic has made even more evident, Germany needs to pursue this goal together with other international partners. With the Indo-Pacific Guidelines that were released in September 2020, the Federal Government expressly commits itself to this task in the region that is taking centre stage in the 21st century. India’s importance can hardly be overestimated in this respect: India is already the largest democracy in the world, and within the next decade it will replace China as the most populous country. Like Germany, the subcontinent at the Indo-Pacific interface is dependent on a solid security structure, an open trading system, and free navigation in international waters. India is severely affected by the consequences of global warming due to its vulnerable ecosystems and is reliant on multilateral approaches to solve this global problem.

  • Population: 1,380,004,385
  • Capital: New Delhi


For decades, Afghanistan was the country with the largest diaspora in the world. In 2015, this position was taken by Syria. Afghanistan looks back on 40 years of fleeing refugees, emigration and expulsion due to civil war, violence and destroyed livelihoods. Since 2001, the country has been one of Germany’s most important security partners in the Middle East. Afghanistan is also a reliable partner in migration policy and has never used migration flows as political leverage.

  • Population: 38,928,346
  • Capital: Kabul


The Expo 2017 world exhibition, a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (2018), the peace talks on Syria: no country in Central Asia is as oriented towards Europe and Germany as Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, much of what has happened recently in Kazakhstan and Central Asia has remained below Germany’s threshold of perception.

  • Population: 18,776,707
  • Capital: Nur-Sultan


Vietnam is one of the few communist countries. A “socialist-oriented market economy” determines the country’s economic status, the communist party vigorously enforces its claim to total power, and the country is subject to fierce criticism in reports on human rights. At the same time, more than three decades of economic growth and political stability have led to Vietnam establishing itself as an influential player in Southeast Asia. An early and vigorous response to the coronavirus crisis has so far managed to limit the dangers to health and the economy.

  • Population: 95,529,003
  • Capital: Hanoi