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Denmark, Sweden Offer Protection to All Women, Girls from Afghanistan

EU Member States Should Follow as Taliban Crackdown Continues

An Afghan woman carries a child as she disembarks at Copenhagen Airport, Denmark, from an SAS aircraft transporting evacuees from Afghanistan on August 22, 2021.  © 2021 Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP via Getty Images

In a noteworthy decision, last week, Denmark’s Refugee Appeals Board announced in a statement that it will grant asylum to all women and girls from Afghanistan “solely based on their gender.” The appeals board cited “worsening conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan” as the basis for its decision.

Likewise, Sweden had announced in December that all women and girls from Afghanistan would be granted refugee status and a three-year residence permit.

Denmark’s newly adopted policy has already provided grounds for asylum for a woman and her daughter, who would otherwise remain in a vulnerable position. The Refugee Appeals Board will also reopen all 10 applications involving women and girls from Afghanistan that were rejected since August 16, 2021.

Denmark’s decision follows the European Union Asylum Agency’s (EUAA) conclusion in January that “women and girls are in general at risk of persecution” under Taliban rule and “hence eligible for refugee status.” Although EU member states must take EUAA’s guidance into consideration when evaluating asylum claims, EU law does not legally oblige them to implement it. Nevertheless, following this guidance would both offer vital protection to women and girls facing gender-based persecution in Afghanistan and reflect faithful compliance with international refugee legal standards.

The two countries’ recognition of women and girls as automatic refugees comes at a critical time of increased repression of women’s rights in Afghanistan and growing uncertainty for Afghans seeking refuge in Europe and beyond.

Following its takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban has relentlessly denied women and girls their basic rights, including barring girls from secondary schools and women from universities while also imposing restrictions on women’s dress, movement, and livelihoods. Protesting women face wrongful detention, torture, beatings, and other abuses at the hands of Taliban forces. Women’s loss of employment compounded the suffering brought on by Afghanistan’s financial crisis, rising prices, and economic insecurity.

Since the Taliban takeover, thousands of Afghans have been stranded in limbo, awaiting resettlement. While Denmark, Sweden, and the EUAA’s decision will not have the impact of large-scale resettlement schemes offering meaningful legal and safe pathways out of Afghanistan and transit countries, it represents an important moment of recognition that half of Afghanistan’s population face persecution under Taliban rule.

Denmark and Sweden’s move to offer women and girls automatic recognition as refugees should serve as a model for other refugee-receiving countries to follow suit.

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