As Afghans flee homes amid Taliban offensive, aid response falls short

Thousands of Afghans have left behind escalating violence to seek shelter elsewhere in the country amid ongoing withdrawal of US and NATO troops.

Internally displaced Afghans, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, fill water containers at a camp on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan, on Thursday, July 8, 2021
Internally displaced Afghans, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, fill water containers at a camp on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan, on Thursday, July 8, 2021 (Rahmat Gul / AP)

As more Afghans flee their homes in escalating violence, fears are rising the response to the country’s latest humanitarian crisis could fall short if aid is not stepped up.

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Across Afghanistan, the Afghan Ministry of Repatriation and Refugees reports approximately 39,000 people were internally displaced in the last two weeks.

Some 35,000 people have fled their homes in northern Afghanistan since June 11 amid Taliban offensives in the area, according to UN estimates.

“It’s an enormous amount of people who have been displaced from districts and are now in Kunduz city,” a UN official in Kabul told TRT World.

“But we continue to get reports of additional displacement due to conflict. So not only in the northeast, but also in other areas across the country,” the official said.

More than 270,000 people have been displaced inside Afghanistan since the start of the year alone, in a country ravaged by 40 years of war and other humanitarian crises. The government puts that figure even higher, at 336,000.

Estimates put the number of internally displaced people at 3.5 million overall, while numbers are rising rapidly as people continue to flee.

“There are people who have fled conflict, in some cases, more than once,” the official continued.

“We’ve seen an increase in the past couple of weeks and months. But they are also affected by drought. And again, as of last year, they are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

At a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) urged the international community to support the government and people of Afghanistan and its neighbours “in a spirit of solidarity and burden-sharing,” warning of a “looming humanitarian crisis.”

According to the agency, Afghans are already the largest protracted refugee population in the world and the second-largest refugee population with 2.5 million registered refugees. Some 90 percent are in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

Mohammad Reza Baher, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Repatriation and Refugees told TRT World aid has reached 67,000 families since the beginning of the year, but that assistance “is not enough.”

“We need some more international support to prevent a humanitarian tragedy,” Baher said. Last week, the ministry also called on European countries to stop deportations of Afghans for three months.

Internally displaced Afghan children play outside their shelter in Kabul on May 7, 2020.
Internally displaced Afghan children play outside their shelter in Kabul on May 7, 2020. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters)

A dangerous flight to safety

President Joe Biden announced in mid-April he would end Afghanistan’s “forever war” and withdraw remaining troops by September 11, twenty years US-led forces invaded the country with the stated aim to preventing it from becoming a base for further terror attacks. Last week, the US announced the withdrawal was 90 percent complete.

The Taliban have made strides throughout the country since the announcement, causing yet another wave of displacement.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva families they interviewed were citing the worsening security situation as the main reason for their flight but also reported “incidents of extortion by non-state armed groups and the presence of improvised explosive devices on major roads,” as well as loss of income and social services as a result of the fighting.

Government officials earlier told TRT World the Taliban planted IEDs in roads leading in and out of districts it captures in an effort block security forces from driving them out.

While some IDPs take shelter with family and friends or rent if they can afford it, increasingly there are reports of people staying in inadequate shelters and makeshift camps, such as those near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where many people from the ethnic minorities that populate the north of the country have fled to.

Researchers TRT World spoke to and international media reports say people are staying in tents under the scorching heat, and suffer from a lack of basic services.

‘Unexpected displacement’

The scale of the displacement has made the humanitarian response challenging.

“We’re talking about the northern part of Afghanistan, which was supposed to be safer than, let’s say, the south,” Abdul Ghafoor, the director of the Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organization, based in Kabul, told TRT World, adding that people were fleeing provinces that were previously considered safe and that “no one expected” such mass displacement.

Bamyan for example was supposed to be one of the safest provinces in Afghanistan,” Ghafoor said.

“But in the past few days, hundreds of families have migrated from Bamyan to Kabul. And they’re arriving in Kabul because Taliban have already surrounded Bamyan and they have tried to enter the city many times,” he added.

Ghafoor is also concerned that many international groups appear to have downsized in recent months, leaving an aid “vacuum.”

“Almost about a third of the population are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. We estimate that half of all children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition this year,” the UN official in Kabul told TRT World.

He said the overall humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan of $1.3 billion continues to be underfunded as only 37 percent of the funding was received so far.

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