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World

Afghan refugees: Pakistan and Iran 'will need a lot of support' as UN braces for mass exodus

  • Kelly Clements, the deputy high commissioner of the UNHCR, says preparing for around 500,000 new refugees in the region
Updated 27 Aug 2021

GENEVA: The United Nations said Pakistan and Iran, who together host 90 percent of the Afghan refugees in the region, along with some 3 million other Afghans without refugee status, "will need a lot of support" as the organisation braces for a possible exodus from violence-ravaged Afghanistan of up to half a million more refugees by the end of 2021.

The organisation said that there currently was not a flood of people fleeing across Afghanistan's borders, but added it was laying contingency plans for that to change as the country's crisis deepens.

"The humanitarian emergency currently is inside Afghanistan," Kelly Clements, the deputy high commissioner of the UNHCR, told reporters.

But "this is obviously a really dynamic situation," she said, explaining that the UNHCR was planning for a variety of different scenarios, including a mass exodus.

"We are preparing for around 500,000 new refugees in the region. This is a worst-case scenario," she said.

Pakistan has historically been at the forefront of hosting Afghan refugees, and has made efforts to evacuate as many as 7,000 people from the country after the Taliban takeover.

US says 105,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan since mid-Aug

Clements stressed in particular the need to boost support for neighbouring countries that already host more than 2.2 million Afghan refugees, and which could soon see the fresh influx.

Even before the Taliban swept into power in Afghanistan nearly two weeks ago, the humanitarian situation in the country had deteriorated dramatically.

Half of the population was already in need of humanitarian assistance, and half of all children under five were estimated to be acutely malnourished.

The UN on Friday presented a plan for UN agencies and partner NGOs to prepare for and respond to the unfolding crisis within Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries.

It urgently appealed for nearly $300 million to fund the plan.

"We are appealing to all countries neighbouring Afghanistan to keep their borders open so that those seeking safety can find safety," Clements said.

In particular Iran and Pakistan, who together host 90 percent of the Afghan refugees in the region, along with some three million other Afghans without refugee status, "will need a lot of support", she said.

Pakistan evacuates over 7,000 people from Afghanistan: report

So far, the overwhelming majority of people fleeing the surge in violence in Afghanistan have remained inside the country.

Only some 7,300 Afghans crossed into neighbouring countries seeking refugee status between January 1 and August 20, a UNHCR spokesman told AFP.

During the same period, nearly 560,000 Afghans fled within the country, joining some 2.9 million internally displaced people already registered there at the end of 2020, the agency said.

More than 80 percent of those displaced in 2021 have been women and children.

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