GAZIANTEP, Turkey (Reuters) – The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan has not resulted in a dramatic exodus of refugees, but the country is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance to avert economic collapse and major upheaval, the country said on Friday. head of the United Nations refugee agency.
Half a million people have been displaced in Afghanistan in recent months, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, a number that would rise if health services, schools and the economy fail .
“In reality, at this stage we have not seen large movements of the Afghan population towards the country’s borders,” Grandi told Reuters. “What we continue to see is a very dramatic phenomenon of internal displacement.”
Even before the Taliban launched their latest push to take control, three million Afghans were already displaced in a country struggling with drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, and where nearly half of the population has received a form of help.
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“We are really worried (…) about economic conditions, basic services like education and health. If these things collapse then we will have a massive humanitarian crisis at our hands and most likely massive displacement as well. “said Grandi.
The first signs of such a crisis were already visible, with people struggling to purchase basic commodities and growing concerns over medical supplies. There was a need to “really scale up” a sustained humanitarian operation, he said.
UNHCR said two weeks ago that up to half a million Afghans could leave their homelands by the end of the year in the worst-case scenario.
When asked how many people could flee in the event of an economic collapse, Grandi said it was “at this point no one is guessing.”
Grandi said he hoped to travel to Afghanistan soon for talks with the Taliban, who on Tuesday announced an interim government that included veterans and extremists from the Islamist group and was greeted by many countries with caution or dismay.
He also called on Western donors to support Afghanistan’s neighboring countries that are already hosting millions of Afghan refugees, and urged countries not to resume deportation of Afghan migrants once transport links with Afghanistan. restored.
Most flights to and from Afghanistan ended when US troops withdrew in late August, but Qatar and Turkey attempted to re-establish operations at Kabul airport.
Grandi spoke to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, whose country hosts around 300,000 Afghans as well as 3.6 million Syrian refugees – the largest refugee population in the world.
Turkey, which borders Iran, Iraq and Syria on its eastern and southern flanks and Greece and Bulgaria to the west, is also a transit route for migrants trying to reach the European Union from Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Erdogan, whose political support has been touched by the large refugee presence in Turkey, said he would not let the unrest in Afghanistan serve as an excuse to turn the country into a “migrant storage unit” for the European Union.
Turkish authorities are building a wall along the eastern border and have stepped up patrols to intercept migrants.
“I told Turkey, like I told everyone, that I’m not a big fan of the walls,” said Grandi. It was the “sovereign right” of a country to ensure the safety of its own people, but walls should not prevent “people who are in desperate need of solidarity and protection”.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; writing by Daren Butler and Dominic Evans; editing by Jonathan Spicer and Alistair Bell)
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