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Half a million Afghans could flee across borders – UNHCR

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Up to half a million Afghans could flee the crisis in their homeland, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday, appealing to all neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for those seeking safety.

“In terms of numbers we are preparing for around 500,000 new refugees in the region. This is a worst case scenario,” Kelly Clements, deputy U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees told a Geneva news briefing.

“While we have not seen large outflows of Afghans at this point, the situation inside Afghanistan has evolved more rapidly than anyone expected,” she added.

U.N. officials appealed for $800 million to fill a chronic funding gap for Afghanistan on Friday, with a senior aid official describing the situation as “catastrophic” with at least one third of people expected to be facing hunger.

“Humanitarian needs are catastrophic, are at large-scale and are increasing,” Wafaa Saeed Abdelatef of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said at a virtual briefing. “These humanitarian needs are coming from decades of conflict, compounded by drought and COVID-19.” The U.N. has appealed for $1.3 billion to reach 16 million people in Afghanistan this year, but a $800 million gap remains.

Photo: Pakistani soldiers check documents of people before crossing into Afghanistan at Chaman border point, in Pakistan. EPA-EFE/STRINGER