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Afghanistan neighbors should open borders to refugees; UN agency

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KABUL: The United Nations refugee agency has urged Afghanistan’s neighbors to open their borders to Afghans seeking to flee their war-torn country — even if they don’t have documentation.

Afghanistan’s land borders with Pakistan and Iran are currently open “almost solely” to Afghans with the required passports and visas, while the borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are “closed entirely” to them, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on December 1.

The UNHCR “is profoundly concerned by escalating risks faced by Afghans seeking to flee” into neighboring states as the situation within their country “continues to deteriorate” following the takeover in August by Taliban militants.

The agency reported restrictions on girls’ education, the women’s movement and the ability to work, the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities, as well as the intimidation and killing of human rights activists, as hinderances to the day-to-day lives of up to half the Afghan population, and barriers to humanitarian assistance.

As deportations have “escalated” from Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan since the Taliban takeover, the UNHCR called on the authorities of all countries to cease the forced return of Afghans, noting that many of them may be in need of refugee protection.

It estimates that Iran has deported an average of 3,000 Afghans daily between August and November, while some 1,800 deportations from Pakistan were reported in September and October. It also cited the deportation of 23 Afghan asylum-seekers, including women and children, from Tajikistan over the past month.

UNHCR warned that “economic deterioration and widespread hunger in Afghanistan may compel thousands more to leave the country to survive.”

Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, with more than half of its population at risk of not having enough to eat during the winter, according to the UN.

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