Afghan people need compassion and support: Op-ed
We are all witnessing the dramatic events affecting Afghanistan and the tragic uncertainty that so many Afghan citizens feel for the future of their country, which currently counts 3 million displaced persons, 550,000 of whom were displaced in 2021. As a humanitarian working for refugees for over 30 years, the situation in Afghanistan where the latest wave of violence comes on top of recurrent natural disasters such as the current devastating drought and the COVID-19 pandemic with its far-reaching health and socio-economic impact is immense and requires our immediate action.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently stated that we will not abandon Afghans and the UNHCR is amongst the U.N. agencies present in Afghanistan for more than 40 years and which is determined to stay and deliver humanitarian assistance.
Despite these dire developments, the UNHCR has not observed a significant outflow of refugees from Afghanistan, even though the situation evolves day by day, if not hour by hour, and the UNHCR is calling on neighboring countries to keep their borders open. Eighty percent of the recently registered internally displaced populations are women and children. An inability to seek safety may risk innumerable civilian lives.
The UNHCR has long been engaged with Pakistan and Iran which have generously hosted millions of Afghan refugees through four decades and stands ready to help national authorities scale up humanitarian responses as needed.
Afghans should not be placed in a situation where they put their lives and scarce resources in the hands of smugglers and criminal networks. Instead, we need solidarity and increased safe pathways of admission.
Turkey has been hosting the largest refugee population in the world since 2014 and should not be expected in any way to bear the brunt of tragic developments taking place more than 2,000 kilometers away from its borders. Fears fed by alarmist reports that up to two million people would travel towards Turkey and Europe are creating a climate of anxiety in the society leading to negative rhetoric towards refugees and migrants.
We should rather have compassion for the deep anxiety that Afghans living in Turkey are going through as they are fearing for the lives and well-being of family members and relatives they are separated from. I have travelled throughout the provinces of Turkey and have witnessed so many expressions of living together between hosting communities and Syrians as well as Afghans.
The comprehensive legal framework that Turkey has developed over recent years provides the necessary tools to address the needs of the various categories of Afghan citizens currently living on its territory and seeking its protection.
Continued Turkish hospitality towards those who had to flee their countries of origin because of conflict and the social inclusion policies that have been implemented for so many refugees continue to be an example to guide policies of other countries, and we continue to advocate for more responsibility-sharing in supporting Turkey’s extraordinary contribution in hosting up to four million refugees for so long.
*Philippe Leclerc is the UNHCR representative in Turkey