Portugal Leads Afghan Resettlement

Please note: names or people, organisations and networks have been omitted on purpose to ensure the safety of all those involved.

One of the most important things we can do during times of crisis and upheaval, is to actively collaborate and work on finding solutions that are small and feasible.

This is what has happened with a small group of Afghan refugees who have transitioned to Portugal with the support of permaculturalists and peace-workers worldwide, and a small group of dedicated permies and agro-ecologists on the ground. 

Several young Afghan refugees who had taken Permaculture Design Courses in Kabul in 2015 and 2018, were working on forming the first local permaculture NGO in Afghanistan. Some students became consultants to other NGOs, working with the university and in rural areas helping women with improved techniques for growing food, and advisors to a Kabul primary school for introducing permaculture into their syllabus.
The Afghan Government reluctantly tolerated the peace and social welfare activities of these young people, but in 2021, when the Taliban returned to government, their lives were in danger. Members of their family were killed or injured. Those in immediate danger left the country, usually illegally, many to Pakistan. The process of setting up the permaculture NGO was halted. 

The dire situation in Afghanistan led a small group of international peace activists and permaculturists from Australia, Portugal, the USA, UK and Canada to look into which countries might be open to welcoming refugees, and be easy to work with. After many discussions with international lawyers working on evacuation possibilities, they realised smaller countries could be more approachable and had less bureaucracy for granting  humanitarian visas. 

The group wanted to find safe passage with a landing that was smooth and welcoming for the Afghans, and most of all, be set up systems with ongoing support and upskilling for a 12month period in the new host country. Portugal offered such a possibility through a land restoration project. In order to make a proposal attractive to the Portuguese government, the group realised it must come from a registered local organisation wishing to resettle people and who would take responsibility for their first 12 months in the country. This included almost everything from learning the local culture/language, to ensuring basic needs are met and providing legal, social and psychological support.

Eight young Afghan permaculturalists and peace workers greeted at Lisbon Airport by local permie who helped coordinate the process

A local agro-ecological center in a small town in Portugal opened their arms to this model. They set up scholarships for a 12month educational program with responsibility and care for the new arrivals. Their intention is to train people to be restoration farmers, connected to place and staying in the local region,  while producing food for the local community, including schools and nursing homes. The organisation supports upskilling to create future work opportunities in regenerative agriculture for the new settlers.

The most empowering thing about this mid to long term process is the opportunity to ensure reciprocity of learning from, and celebrating different cultures, and to be able to provide education and training that enables people to have purpose and feel uplifted. 

The international group needed to develop a detailed budget for the project’s expenses for a year., which they did, based on similar projects through other organisations. This budget was key to the Immigration Department agreeing to give humanitarian visas. 

The international group then sourced the finances for the project through various individuals and organisations. They also assisted with practicalities such as immigration forms and acquiring funds for food, medicines, visas, fares and the challenges of getting money into the country, while also providing personal support.

Throughout the process the group also developed a strong partnership with the local council as well as the local community, who were very supportive, engaged and welcoming. This partnership has given credibility to the project with the Ministry of Foreign Affair and helped the outcomes immensely.  So, commitment from the agro-ecological centre, the partnership with the local council, agreement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Portugal and effective coordination and organisation by permaculturalists and peace workers, afforded the small group of Afghans safe and smooth arrival in Portugal in early March, and they are now settling into their new home in the village, in Portugal.

Two Afghan refugees already working in the nursery as part of their 12-month internship

There are key lessons and insights from this process that we can learn from and apply to different contexts, taking into account cultural, social and political differences. This is a prototype of sorts for the P4R network, and there is still much work that needs to be done in understanding what works and what doesn’t work. 

The group will document the process more deeply, including monitoring and evaluating the program and well-being of the refugees. We will share updates of our Afghan friends’ journeys in Portugal throughout 2022, so stay tuned.

Some updates on the current situation in Afghanistan: A recent article by Aljazeera cited ​​Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights stating that Afghanistan was facing “a devastating humanitarian and economic crisis” that is hampering the Afghan people’s economic, social and cultural rights and more than half the population now suffer extreme levels of hunger.  According to the UN, nearly nine million Afghans are at risk of famine.