By Robin Gomes
With the Taliban overrunning vast swathes of territories in Afghanistan in the wake of the withdrawal of foreign troops, the security situation in the country has worsened. With an estimated 270,000 people forced to flee their home since January due to insecurity and violence, the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has exceeded 3.5 million, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
The agency said that families were fleeing extortion by non-state armed groups and the dangers posed by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, along major roads. Many also reported a breakdown in welfare support and a loss of income, owing to the rising insecurity.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, is increasingly concerned with the number of reported serious human rights abuses and violations alleged in communities most affected by the ongoing military offensive across the country. The reports of killing, ill-treatment, persecution and discrimination are widespread and disturbing, creating fear and insecurity.
Children and women
According to UNAMA, the number of civilian casualties rose by 29 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period 12 months ago. An increasing proportion of casualties are women and children.
According to UNHCR Spokesperson, Babar Baloch, around 65 per cent of the Afghan population – in and outside of Afghanistan – are children and young people. The failure to reach a peace agreement between the Taliban and Government to stem the current violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighbouring countries and beyond, he told journalists in Geneva.
UNCHR pointed out neighbouring Iran and Pakistan host nearly 90 per cent of displaced Afghans - more than two million registered Afghan refugees in total. Baloch said, “Both countries have granted access to territory and protection to Afghan refugees, along with health and educational services through national systems.” “Their hospitality and inclusive policies, spanning decades and generations,” he stressed, “must not be taken for granted.”
“The needs of those who have had to flee suddenly are acute”, he said, adding that as part of its coordinated response, the agency and partners “are assisting newly displaced Afghans with emergency shelter, food, health, water and sanitation support and cash assistance, despite challenges in accessing vulnerable groups.”
Call for solidarity, sharing
The refugee agency is urging the international community to step up support to the government and people of Afghanistan and its neighbours at this “critical moment”, “in a spirit of solidarity and burden-sharing”. UNHCR’s financial appeal for the Afghanistan situation (including operations for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran) remains acutely underfunded, at only 43 per cent of the $337 million needed.
Baloch said, “The resilience of the Afghan people has been pushed to the limit by prolonged conflict, high levels of displacement, the impact of Covid-19, recurrent natural disasters, including drought, and deepening poverty.”