Eighty percent of nearly 250,0000 Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children, even as Taliban forces continued to capture more provincial capitals.
Mentioning it as a staggering statistic, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said that they were particularly concerned about the impact of the conflict on women and girls. “We need to raise the alarm about the disproportionate toll they are paying for what is happening on the ground,” she said.
According to a report published last month jointly by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), more women and children were killed and wounded in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009.
On the impact of the fighting on civilians, World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson Tomson Phiri stated that the conflict “has accelerated much faster than we all anticipated and the situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe”.
UN Refugee Agency latest update on Afghanistan: 400,000 civilians forcibly displaced since the start of the year. Of the almost 250,000 forced from their homes sine the end of May, most – 80% – are women and children.https://t.co/w4x0Kkysgd
— UNHCR News (@RefugeesMedia) August 13, 2021
The latest US military intelligence assessment suggests that the Afghan capital could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days, the UN says.
As widespread fighting intensifies, meanwhile, thousands of Afghans have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban would again impose a brutal, repressive government. The militant Islamist group ruled the country from the mid-1990s until the post 9/11 attacks US-led invasion, in late 2001.
Humanitarians are particularly concerned that the fighting is increasingly shifting to crowded urban areas, while UNHCR’s Shabia Mantoo noted that nearly 120,000 Afghans had fled from rural areas and provincial towns to Kabul province since the beginning of the year.
The increasing number of civilians seeking shelter in towns and cities meant that “a growing number …do not have a place to sleep”, said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for UN humanitarian coordination office, OCHA. “Normally they would go to family and friends for shelter, but this is no longer the case.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 30 per cent increase in patients compared to last year, with numbers almost doubling in the last two to three months.
The World Food Programme (WFP) noted that fighting also created new challenges in reaching communities in need of food assistance around the country. WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri said that their plan was to scale-up assistance to reach nine million people by December. However, the spokesperson said the UN agency was “severely under-resourced” and need 200 million dollars “to get us through to the end of the year…to ensure food is where it’s needed when it’s needed.”
UNHCR’s Shabia Mantoo urged the international community to step up its response to this latest Afghanistan displacement crisis, appealing to neighbouring countries to “keep their borders open”, as an “inability to seek safety may risk innumerable civilian lives”.
Countries hosting Afghans who may have international protection needs should also ensure that they can seek safety, “regardless of their current legal status”, the UNHCR spokesperson insisted.