New Leitner Center Report Investigating Afghanistan Withdrawal Recommends Better Planning and Preparation for Humanitarian Evacuations 


Can lessons be learned from the chaos of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 to prevent a future humanitarian crisis? A new report from Fordham Law’s Leitner Center for International Law and Justice examines the disastrous evacuations and provides a series of guidelines aimed at policy- and decision-makers and the broader international community.

The report, titled “The World Simply Gave Up”: International Law and the Role of Non-State Entities in Humanitarian Evacuations in Afghanistan, is an attempt to answer the question, as Leitner Center Executive Director and report co-author Elisabeth Wickeri puts it, of “why governments were not doing more” to prevent the chaos and evacuate people at risk of retaliation. 

Wickeri, along with co-author and Fordham Law Visiting Scholar Junli Lim, conducted more than 40 interviews around the world, including lawyers, advocates, and veterans who were directly involved in evacuations that helped thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power.

Four Fordham Law students and Crowley Scholars—Elizabeth Garrison ’24, Shivani Parikh ’24, Marciana Popescu ’24, and Tammy Zapata ’24—were deeply involved in the development of the report through the Leitner Center’s Crowley Program in International Human Rights. They dove into complex issues in international human rights and humanitarian law, assisted with interviews, and provided informal translation services while also gaining experience working on a real world legal project with important implications for future humanitarian evacuation policy.

The Crowley Program experience was also paired with an academic seminar. “It was extremely beneficial to me, and extremely rewarding,” said Popescu, who is also a professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service, and a forced migration scholar. “Liz Wickeri did an amazing job in bringing to all the seminars amazing human rights activists and lawyers from around the world, who are invested in different issues.” 

“It wasn’t just the project itself, it was the vast areas of current issues in human rights that we covered. It was extremely intellectually stimulating…The Crowley Program is one of the highs of my overall law school experience,” Popescu added.

“Better Planning” Needed in Future Evacuations

The report’s recommendations include better planning, relying on existing networks in local communities, and being more flexible around the issue of travel documents. 

Wickeri said that it’s often impossible for people leaving crisis situations to get necessary travel documents due to embassies closing down, conditions that prevent them from returning home, or because they didn’t have documents in the first place.  

Other recommendations included, “creating accessible resettlement programs,” and clarifying the obligations of states coordinating evacuations. 

“Like many others, I responded to requests for support in August 2021 and was gobsmacked by how unprepared, uncoordinated, and unresponsive states were to the events that unfolded, as well as to vulnerable groups and individuals,” said Lim.

Added Wickeri, “As an American and as a lawyer, I felt strongly that the U.S. government was not doing what it should in honoring the experiences of Afghans on the ground, both those who had helped the United States during the past 20 years of the war, but also those who had come to rely on the open and democratic society that the U.S. had promoted.”

For Shivani Parikh, who says she is passionate about pursuing a career in civil rights for the South Asian community, participating in the project was also an opportunity to examine other forms of identity-based biases. 

“It was intriguing to me, the global treatment of Afghan refugees in contrast to refugees from other parts of the world, which partially has to do with where they’re from, but also their religion as well,” said Parikh.

“I think for all of us, as women, it’s also incredibly important to lend our voices because we know how challenging it can be right now under the Taliban regime for women to continue to pursue their rights and their education.”


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