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UN Preparing for Exodus of Half-Million Afghan Refugees

FILE - Families walk towards their flight during evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 24, 2021, in this photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

U.N. agencies are appealing for nearly $300 million in preparation for the possible exodus of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, seeking safety and protection from conflict and persecution under Taliban rule.

The U.N. refugee agency and partners are planning for what they call a worst-case scenario of more than 515,000 newly displaced refugees fleeing to countries neighboring Afghanistan.

UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements says preparations are underway to assist host governments in the region with financial and material support to care for a large influx of refugees.

She says discussions with national authorities are underway on scaling up the humanitarian response. She notes the proposed regional response plan is a critical part of that process.

“While we have not seen large outflows of Afghans at this point, the situation inside Afghanistan has evolved more rapidly than anyone expected. We need therefore to be prepared for any number of eventualities. That takes resources, preparation and a reasonable amount of lead time,” Clements said.

Most of the support is likely to go to Iran and Pakistan, countries that are already hosting 2.2 million Afghans, many of whom have been living there for decades.

Afghans Arriving at Dulles Airport Tell Their Stories of Evacuations
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Clements says the generosity shown by these governments in sheltering Afghan refugees for nearly 40 years cannot be taken for granted.

“Increased and immediate funding will allow us to preposition core relief items and be ready for emergency interventions…. Given the critical COVID situation, especially in Iran, we have an unusually high ask in regard to health assistance. It is critical that both refugees and hosts are protected and that vaccines are made available to all,” she said.

Money from the appeal will support the humanitarian operations of 11 U.N. and non-governmental organizations on behalf of the Afghan refugees until the end of the year. The agencies will provide food, shelter, health care, education, protection, and other vital humanitarian assistance.