UN refugee chief in Kabul to say Afghans are not forgotten

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The head of the U.N. refugee agency came to Kabul on Tuesday to tell Afghans they have not been forgotten — despite the devastation of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the unfolding humanitarian crisis unseen in Europe since World War II.

For Afghans, the message from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was very much needed as they seek stability even as Afghanistan plunges deeper into poverty, seven months since the Taliban takeover in mid-August.

It was only last year that the world watched as young Afghan men clung to departing American aircraft, some falling to their death as a stream of refugees left the country. Now, a stunned international community watches as the refugee exodus from Ukraine topped 3 million on Tuesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Grandi said some have wondered at the timing of his trip. But even as the world’s attention has shifted, the crisis in Afghanistan is deep, he said in Kabul.

A report Tuesday from the U.N. organization coordinating humanitarian aid said that a staggering 96% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people do not have enough food.

In Kabul, Grandi met Taliban leaders Tuesday and was to travel to southern Kandahar and eastern Nangarhar provinces before departing on Thursday. He acknowledged having seen progress since his last visit in September.

He said Taliban leaders are establishing structures and developing strategies on how to tackle burning issues as they shift from war to governing and running day-to-day matters of state.

“I can see that they have gained more experience,” Grandi said, adding that this time, he had “a stronger impression of professional strategies in certain areas.”

His conversations were frank, Grandi said — he heard the Taliban speak of support for girls education. That promise will be tested later this month, when Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to reopen schools for girls of all ages.

The Taliban have also spoken to him about the rights of minorities and having women in the workforce. He welcomed the commitment and while women are still restricted in the jobs they do, they have returned to work in two sectors — health and education. And at Kabul’s international airport, women work in passport control and customs.

Grandi, however, also urged the international community to reach out to Afghanistan’s new rulers

“I do hope that the international community does take note of both actual progress and good intentions, because they also have to make steps in the direction of the Taliban, otherwise these intentions will not materialize,” he said .

Still Grandi said there is much to be done by the Taliban and by the international community to keep Afghanistan peaceful and move the country from the state of a humanitarian disaster to a developing economy.

“There is progress but whether that progress is already felt in the country, I think it’s too early to say,” said Grandi.

But he warned that with the scope of the persisting humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, “so much suffering, so much hunger, so much despair … it will take time.”

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