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Afghanistan: UN agencies urge Taliban to protect vulnerable

UN agencies on Tuesday appealed to the Taliban to make good on promises to protect the vulnerable as Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the crisis in the country where humanitarian needs remain critical.

Some 18 million people in the country need aid assistance and one in three children is expected to be severely malnourished in 2021, an official of UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Mustapha Messaoud, said.

Speaking via Zoom from the capital Kabul, the agency’s chief of field operations and emergencies, Messaoud, reported seeing hungry infants, some with terrible wounds after clashes between the country’s new rulers and Afghan Security Forces.

“In Kandahar, I have seen the direct impacts of this recent flare in fighting and that impact is severely malnourished children. I have seen people injured in such a way that it’s difficult to describe, young children, as young as 10 months,” he said.

Isabelle Moussard Carlsen, Head of the UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA) in Afghanistan, told UN News that some 16 million people in the country were in need of aid.

Inside Kabul, Mr Ben Messaoud said that the situation was “improving”, although mobile health teams from the World Health Organisation (WHO) had been forced to halt operations in recent days, owing to insecurity.

“There is great need there that we need to attend to,” the UNICEF official added.

The recent fighting has also taken a heavy toll on an already fragile health system, which faces “a shortage of essential medical supplies and equipment in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.

“Needs assessment and service delivery by mobile health teams is on hold for the past 24 hours and that’s due to security and the unpredictable situation in Kabul.”

From the UN human rights office, OHCHR, spokesperson Rupert Colville underlined “chilling reports of human rights abuses, and of restrictions on the rights of individuals, especially women and girls, in some parts of the country captured over the past few weeks.

Unfortunately, for the time being, the flow of information has been considerably disrupted, and we have not been in a position to verify the most recent allegations”.

Colville also described “desperate scenes” at Kabul airport on Monday, where videos screened on social media showed desperate men clinging to a U.S. airforce plane as it prepared to leave the capital.

“Fortunately, the capital and the other last major cities to be captured such as Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif were not subjected to prolonged fighting, bloodshed or destruction,” he continued.

“However, the fear instilled in a significant proportion of the population is profound, and given past history thoroughly understandable.”

Colville said that Taliban spokespeople had issued several statements including pledging an amnesty for those who worked for the previous Government.

“They have also pledged to be inclusive.

“They have said woman can work and girls can go to school.

“Such promises will need to be honoured, and for the time being – again understandably, given past history – these declarations have been greeted with some scepticism.

“Nevertheless, the promises have been made, and whether or not they are honoured or broken will be closely scrutinised.”

Amid grave concerns about the risk of new human rights violations against civilians in Afghanistan based on previous Taliban rule, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) urged refugee host nations not to repatriate vulnerable Afghan nationals.

“In the wake of the rapid deterioration and the security and human rights situation in large parts of the country and the unfolding humanitarian emergency, UNHCR calls on States to halt possible returns of Afghan nationals who have previously been determined not to be in need of international protection,” said spokesperson Shabia Mantoo.

For the moment, the number of people leaving Afghanistan in search of shelter in neighbouring countries has been relatively low, Ms Mantoo explained, before underscoring the massive needs inside the country.

“Out of the hundreds of thousands of people that have been displaced, we have now 550,000 people displaced within the country, so they are still within Afghanistan,” she said.

“In recent weeks, the majority of those have fled in recent weeks and 80 per cent of those that are newly displaced are women and children.”

Head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, echoed concerns for all those displaced by the violence and civilians in need of assistance.

The country has already been severely affected by years of conflict and drought, he said in a statement, adding that nearly 400,000 people had been displaced.

Vitorino said since the beginning of the year as a result of ongoing violence, while more than five million others were already internally displaced and reliant on humanitarian aid.

“IOM reiterates that the safety and protection of civilians remains the number one priority.’’

He appealed to all parties to ensure unhindered access for all humanitarian actors providing relief and much-needed assistance to affected populations who should be able to continue to exercise their fundamental rights. 

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