Red Cross prepares for half a million Afghans to flee

Charity fears 'alarming humanitarian emergency' facing people under Taliban rule

A woman holds a child at a camp for displaced people in Kabul. AP
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Red Cross workers in Europe are preparing for more than 500,000 refugees to flee Afghanistan amid fears that a harsh winter will compound the country’s woes.

The charity said Afghanistan faces an “alarming humanitarian emergency” as Taliban rule and a dire economic scenario pushes people to leave.

It said a worst-case scenario used by aid workers was that 515,000 people could leave Afghanistan before the end of the year.

Humanitarian workers expect busy migration routes to Europe as asylum seekers look for refuge.

“Many Afghans could cross international borders in the coming months,” said Xavier Castellanos, an under-secretary general at the Red Cross.

“Winter is approaching and we know it can be harsh … we need to prepare to provide them with protection and humanitarian assistance.”

He said drought, food shortages, healthcare problems, the coronavirus pandemic and “restrictive social norms” could force people to leave.

Despite presenting a moderate image, the Taliban have moved to restrict women and bring back harsh punishments such as amputation since returning to power.

Western countries have set women’s rights as a condition of co-operation with the Taliban, whose regime is not recognised internationally.

The European Union plans to help Afghanistan’s neighbours to absorb refugees to prevent a migration crisis in Europe.

While some Afghans were flown out of Kabul during the Nato airlift, others who worked for western forces were left behind.

Hundreds of Afghans have arrived in Greece this year, more than from any other country.

Others arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina where humanitarian workers are dealing with the flow of arrivals.

The Red Cross said it needed more than 24 million Swiss francs ($25.9m) to provide humanitarian assistance for at least the next year.

It said the priority was to provide aid for Afghanistan’s neighbours including Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan.

“Afghanistan faces an alarming humanitarian emergency and a worsening economic crisis, both likely to be further exacerbated by the approaching winter season,” the charity said.

“Access to banking services has been severely constrained, with cash flow crippled.

“A rapid deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan could result in catastrophic consequences for vulnerable Afghans and could lead to further internal and cross-border displacement.”

Updated: September 29, 2021, 1:51 PM