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UN Calls for Better Afghan Family Reunification

FILE - Children of Afghan refugees play outside tents in the Afghan Basti area on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan, June 19, 2021.

The U.N. refugee agency is calling on countries to ease bureaucratic requirements and speed up Afghan family reunification procedures.

More than 3.5 million Afghans are displaced inside Afghanistan and many more are displaced across the region in neighboring countries as refugees.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said it is difficult to collect data under the current turbulent conditions. Therefore, it is hard to know how many people would qualify for family reunification.

However, based on a 10-year study done before the current situation, she said the number is likely to be significant.

"So, from 2010 to 2019, I believe ... a bit over 286,000 Afghans were granted family permits in OECD countries and Brazil. … I do not know if that is indicative, but it does give a bit of a picture," Mantoo said.

She said many separated families abroad approach UNHCR offices, desperately concerned about the safety and welfare of their relatives, who remain in Afghanistan. She described conditions inside Afghanistan as exceptionally challenging.

She said the UNHCR is urging countries to simplify family reunification admission procedures to help protect lives.

"While many countries have specific legal frameworks that provide for refugee family reunification and offer specific safeguards and waivers, UNHCR is worried that many Afghan refugees could face considerable administrative barriers in realizing this legal right," she said. "Some of these barriers include prohibitive costs, lengthy waiting times and inflexible documentation requirements."

Mantoo suggested that countries could fast-track family reunification by adopting humanitarian visa programs, prioritizing procedures for Afghan families, and applying liberal and humane criteria in identifying family members who qualify.

She said many people likely will have to wait a long time before they can join their families in a third country. Given their precarious situation, she said they would qualify as refugees, making them eligible for all refugee protection safeguards.