The Irish Times view on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan: a looming disaster

Rapid international action is needed to provide a haven for refugees and to support those who stay

An Afghan migrant rests while waiting for transport by smugglers after crossing the Iran-Turkish border this week.   Photograph: Ozan Kose /AFP

Many would argue that it is "international assistance" which got Afghanistan in the mess that it is in. Now only generous international assistance will avert its looming humanitarian disasters.

On the one hand, there is the urgent need to provide a haven for those most vulnerable to retribution, such as those who worked for Nato allies, human and women's rights activists and NGO workers . Few of them, understandably, have faith in Taliban leaders' assurances of an "amnesty" or commitments to protecting women's rights.

That reality is driving some 30,000 Afghanis to leave the country each week in search of refuge, raising fears of a repeat of 2015 when a million migrants, mostly from Syria but also Afghans and Iraqis, arrived in Europe. Responding with generosity to the latest trail of misery is a moral imperative, a debt of honour, and a pragmatic necessity.

Ireland has said it will grant an initial 150 humanitarian visas -–far more will be needed –which will accelerate processing applications for Afghan family reunions. The State has promised no deportation of Afghanis who have been refused refugee status.

READ MORE

The response from European capitals has been more defensive than generous. France's President Macron has insisted Europe must come up with a "robust" response to increased migration. And the politician who opened the door in 2015, Chancellor Merkel, has spoken of differentiating assistance, suggesting a "secure place to stay near Afghanistan" should be found for vulnerable Afghans who did not work with Germany. That would suggest reviving the EU-Turkey strategy of heavy funding to Afghanistan's neighbour states to assist in the assimilation of refugees and to discourage onward travel.

On the other hand, there is the huge challenge of aiding those who stay. Eighteen million of the country's 38 million people already require humanitarian assistance, while the conflict has displaced up to 390,000 people this year alone. In five years there has been a fivefold increase to 42 per cent of those in crisis levels of food insecurity, and three million are likely to be acutely affected by a drought this year. The nutritional status of under-fives continues to deteriorate – 27 of 34 provinces are now above the emergency threshold for acute malnutrition. Reports suggest groups like the World Food Programme are being encouraged by the Taliban to continue their work but the UN aid appeal for Afghanistan for US $1.3 billion has so far only been 38 per cent funded.

EU foreign ministers have rightly backed continued humanitarian aid -–over €1 billion since 1994 - but insist that promised development aid will be conditional on the Taliban willingness to observe human rights, protect women’s rights, and to deny harbour to international terrorism. That leverage, vigilantly enforced, is vital and the only way to test the good faith of the new regime.