The UN High Commissioner for Refugees wants the international community to recognize 'actual progress and good intentions' by the Taliban | Source: @FilippoGrandi
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees wants the international community to recognize 'actual progress and good intentions' by the Taliban | Source: @FilippoGrandi

The UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi has warned that Afghanistan must not be forgotten because of the war in Ukraine. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been unable to flee the country, which has descended into a deep crisis.

As millions flee the Russian war in Ukraine, the world’s attention has been shifted away from Afghanistan, where just over six months ago a stream of refugees was forced to escape the Taliban regime, some desperate enough to cling to departing aircraft.

On Thursday (March 17), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, concluded a four-day visit to Afghanistan, now suffering a severe humanitarian crisis.

Since last August, the country has descended further into poverty, with a report from the UN organization coordinating humanitarian aid this week revealing that 96% of Afghanistan's 38 million people do not have enough food.

In addition, Grandi said on Thursday, around 3.4 million people in Afghanistan are internally displaced, the healthcare system is severely under-resourced amid a measles outbreak as well as the COVID pandemic, and teachers and hospital staff are without salaries. Rising costs of food and energy globally are also having a devastating effect, he added.

'We cannot go down the same road'

"When 25 years ago this country fell off the radar screen, it ended very badly ... we can not go down the same road," Grandi told the news agency AFP.

"As much as the world is rightfully preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, Afghanistan is experiencing a very grave crisis" he added, as he ended the visit to Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad.

Refugee rights and civil society groups supporting Afghan refugees had also expressed concern that those suffering in Afghanistan have disappeared from the headlines even before the crisis in Ukraine began.

Pro Asyl, a refugee advocacy organization in Germany, and the Kabul Airlift organization, last month drew up a ten-point plan calling on the government to enable the continued evacuation of as many as 35,000 vulnerable people from Afghanistan, including former locally engaged staff and human rights workers.

Also read: Pressure mounts on governments that have left behind 'thousands' in Afghanistan

Desperate Afghans run alongside a US Air Force transport plane in Kabul during the airlift | Photo: AP Photo/picture-alliance
Desperate Afghans run alongside a US Air Force transport plane in Kabul during the airlift | Photo: AP Photo/picture-alliance

Talking to the Taliban

The UNHCR chief has visited Kabul regularly since the takeover of the Taliban. In an interview with the AP news agency he again stressed that it was "of vital importance to the Afghan people" that the international community does not neglect their country.

After meeting the leaders of the Taliban interim government on Tuesday he wrote on Twitter that there had been agreement on the need for security, rights, livelihoods and services for all in order for displaced people and refugees to be willing and able to return home. Grandi also met UN staff and NGOs who continue to work in Afghanistan, visiting a girls' school in Jalalabad.

The High Commissioner has defended his decision to engage with the Taliban – he was one of the first to do so after they took power in August, saying that humanitarian actors now have greater access and many areas are more secure than in previous years. He told the Washington Post in an interview in January that humanitarian dialogue with the Taliban opened up a space that allowed him to promote issues such as the need for women to be able to work, for minorities to be represented and for girls to attend school.

He urged the international community to reach out to Afghanistan’s new rulers and acknowledge "actual progress and good intentions" by the Taliban – "otherwise these intentions will not materialize," he said.

Funds to stave off hunger, displacement

As well as promoting engagement, the High Commissioner called for funds. In January, the UN made its biggest-ever single-country aid appeal, calling for about €4 billion to stave off hunger, disease, malnutrition, death and displacement.

Grandi said that the war in Ukraine has already started to make it difficult to raise funds for Afghanistan. The UNHCR itself had made an appeal of €307 million for Afghanistan for 2022 but so far has managed to raise only about €90 million, he said.

Donor countries, UN agencies and Afghan civil society are due to take part in an online fund raising event this month, focusing on delivering food, shelter and health services, particularly for women and girls.

With AFP, AP 

 

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