UN warns of up to 500,000 more Afghan refugees by year-end

Published August 28, 2021
In this file photo, Afghan people walk inside a fenced corridor as they enter Pakistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border-crossing point in Chaman on August 25, following the Taliban's stunning military takeover of Afghanistan. — AFP/File
In this file photo, Afghan people walk inside a fenced corridor as they enter Pakistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border-crossing point in Chaman on August 25, following the Taliban's stunning military takeover of Afghanistan. — AFP/File

GENEVA: The United Nations said on Friday it was bracing for a possible exodus from violence-ravaged Afghanistan of up to half a million more refugees by the end of 2021.

The organisation said there currently was not a flood of people fleeing across Afghanistan’s borders, but added it was laying contingency plans for that to change as the country’s crisis deepens.

“The humanitarian emergency currently is inside Afghanistan,” Kelly Clements, the deputy high commissioner of the UNHCR, told reporters.

But “this is obviously a really dynamic situation”, she said, explaining that the UNHCR was planning for a variety of different scenarios, including a mass exodus.

“We are preparing for around 500,000 new refugees in the region. This is a worst-case scenario,” she said.

Appeals to all countries neighbouring Afghanistan to keep their borders open

She stressed in particular the need to boost support for neighbouring countries that already host more than 2.2m Afghan refugees, and which could soon see the fresh influx.

Even before the Taliban swept into power in Afghanistan nearly two weeks ago, the humanitarian situation in the country had deteriorated dramatically.

Half of the population was already in need of humanitarian assistance, and half of all children under five were estimated to be acutely malnourished.

The UN on Friday presented a plan for UN agencies and partner NGOs to prepare for and respond to the unfolding crisis within Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries.

It urgently appealed for nearly $300m to fund the plan. “We are appealing to all countries neighbouring Afghanistan to keep their borders open so that those seeking safety can find safety,” Clements said.

In particular Iran and Pakistan, who together host 90 per cent of the Afghan refugees in the region, along with some three million other Afghans without refugee status, “will need a lot of support”, she said.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021

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