27th Feb 2024

Afghanistan is a 'forever emergency,' says UN head

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Afghanistan is a "forever emergency" rendered worse by an isolated country intent on dismantling human rights, says UN refugee agency (UNHCR) representative for the country, Leonard Zulu.

"The emergency that we had in August 2021 did not disappear," he said, in reference to the Taliban takeover that left much of the world stunned.

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"And that's why I'm saying it's a forever emergency that will remain as a recurrent emergency," he said, noting that the UN agency is facing a funding shortfall.

Zulu and his office is based in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

But on a visit in Brussels on Monday (4 December), he sat down with EUobserver to spell out the difficulties faced by Afghans and aid agencies.

Last year, some six million people were "knocking on famine's" door, he said.

This comes on top of another 29 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, as well as a series of earthquakes and floods that have ravaged entire villages and displaced populations.

And now, since November, aid agencies operating in the country have had to contend with a Pakistan that has deported almost a half million Afghans back to Afghanistan. Pakistan hosts some 1.7 million Afghans, many of whom fled the Soviet occupation, while others left following the 2021 Taliban takeover.

"They started enforcing this on the first of November," Zulu said of Pakistan, noting that some Afghans being forced to return have never set foot in Afghanistan.

"And they are being asked to integrate and reintegrate into their country of origin at a time when winter has really settled upon us," he added.

Zulu says at its peak, some 20,000 arrived daily from Pakistan — which has since dropped to around to three or four thousand. "The usual return figure was 300 or 200," he said.

Others are also arriving from Iran, posing additional strains on already stretched aid agencies, he said.

Women and girls shunned

Meanwhile, the Taliban have issued some 50 edicts, orders, and restrictions over the span of two years.

This includes banning women and girls from education, forcing them to wear full-body coverings when in public, and denying them access to gyms, public baths, public parks, and amusement parks.

And they can also no longer work for international aid agencies.

Zulu says their aid seeks to predominately benefit women and girls by using a grassroots approach and community networks. But it also means they cannot use government structures or institutions controlled by the Taliban, he said.

The Taliban are not formally recognised by foreign governments — with the exception of China, Pakistan, Russia and Turkmenistan. All four have accredited Taliban-appointed diplomats.

It is also under international sanctions that has had a crippling impact on its economy, according to Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

In a report out earlier this year, the NRC described it as an economic disaster, noting that even transactions for food shipments by Afghan businesses via the United Nations are blocked by banks.

For its part, the EU does not recognise the legitimacy of the Taliban and has also imposed sanctions.

Last January, it opened its mission in Kabul with a goal to monitor assistance to the population.

This year, it allocated €156.5m in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, down from €174m in 2022. The aid is channeled through international aid organisations and NGOs.


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