UN warns of Afghan refugee surge, calls for economic aid

By Pakistan Forward and AFP

Afghan refugees sit around a makeshift tent shelter on the outskirts of Quetta, Pakistan, on September 6. [Banaras Khan/AFP]

Afghan refugees sit around a makeshift tent shelter on the outskirts of Quetta, Pakistan, on September 6. [Banaras Khan/AFP]

UNITED NATIONS -- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi warned of a surge of Afghan refugees amid mounting fears of economic collapse and called for urgent economic aid.

Afghans have been fleeing or trying to flee their homeland since the previous government fell in August.

A pending 'implosion'

"We risk having an implosion that will cause an inflow of people inside the country for sure but at that point also outside of the country in quest of better conditions of life," Grandi told reporters via video link from Geneva.

Grandi would not say how many people have been displaced since the fall of the previous government and how many new refugees are expected because he did not have those numbers yet.

The UN has repeatedly warned that Afghanistan is on the brink of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

More than half of Afghanistan's 38 million population is expected to face hunger this winter, according to aid groups, as the economy teeters on the verge of collapse.

Grandi said that the crisis can still be avoided, but it requires faster action in terms of implementing systems to ensure the Afghan economy can function, that services continue and that cash flow into the country resumes.

Efforts to help, though dwarfed by the scale of the crisis, include deliveries of food and cash by the World Food Programme to needy Afghans.

Expulsions by Iran

Grandi will travel to Tehran in several days to discuss the issue with Iran's leaders, he said.

Iran has been a leading destination for Afghan refugees fleeing war and economic troubles for decades.

Despite the risk of famine in Afghanistan, Iran has recently been expelling tens of thousands of Afghans every week, including those who had long been living there.

According to the UNHCR, there are 3.4 million Afghans in Iran, including almost two million undocumented migrants and 800,000 refugees.

Furthermore, some 3.5 million Afghans have been displaced inside their country, many of them before the Taliban came to power in August, according to UN estimates.

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