World must not forget Afghanistan because of Ukraine war: UN

KABUL: The Russian invasion of Ukraine must not make the world forget Afghanistan, the UN refugee chief said on Tuesday, warning that ignoring its humanitarian needs could be “very risky”.

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, who is on a four-day visit to Afghanistan, said the international community must continue to engage with Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities as the country desperately needed humanitarian assistance.

“The whole attention of the world at the moment is focussed on Ukraine,” Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told AFP at a UN compound in the Afghan capital.

“But my message coming here is, don’t forget the other situations, where attention and resources are needed and Afghanistan is one of them.

“The risks of distraction are very high, very high … Humanitarian assistance has to flow no matter how many other crises compete with Afghanistan around the world.”

The Taliban seized power on August 15 amid a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces, and since then the country’s humanitarian crisis has deepened.

The United Nations and other global aid agencies have said that more than half of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are facing hunger this winter.

In January, the UN made its biggest-ever single-country aid appeal, calling for $5 billion to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

But Grandi said that the war in Ukraine has already started to make it difficult to raise funds for Afghanistan.

UNHCR itself had made an appeal of $340 million for Afghanistan for 2022 but so far has managed to raise about $100 million, he said.

“So, we need to push because the needs are the same now as they were in September” just after the Taliban takeover, he added.

“Generous response has to continue” for Afghanistan, a country that has up to six million of its citizens living as refugees abroad.

Grandi, who acknowledged that the security situation across the country had improved since the Taliban came to power, said that aid-related discussions with the groups have been increasingly “frank and open”.

If the Taliban continue to make progress on issues like women’s rights then steady international aid will also continue to come to Afghanistan, he said.

Global donors led by Washington have insisted that any foreign aid will depend on the Taliban’s policy when it comes to women’s rights to education and work.

Since coming to power the Taliban have imposed several restrictions on women, but have said that secondary schools for girls would reopen soon.

“We will see in a few days when schools reopen, then the international community will take note,” Grandi said.

“When 25 years ago this country fell off the radar screen, it ended very badly … we cannot go down the same road. I hope that common sense will prevail,” he said, referring to a brutal civil war that erupted in the 1990s after the withdrawal of then Soviet forces.

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