The United Nations (UN) said on Friday they are estimating up to half a million Afghan nationals could flee a humanitarian crisis in their homeland in a worst-case scenario.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to all neighboring countries to keep their borders open for refugees seeking safety after a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan this month and multiple bomb attacks by the ISIS terrorist group at Kabul’s airport earlier this week.
“In terms of numbers, we are preparing for around 500,000 new refugees in the region. This is a worst-case scenario,” UNHCR Kelly Clements said during a news briefing in Geneva. “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.
The exodus from the beleaguered Middle Eastern nation is likely to happen by the end of 2021, news agency AFP reported.
Many European countries, including Greece and Turkey, have expressed concerns about a possible surge of illegal immigrants trying to cross the border following the Taliban’s rise to power.
Greece’s Minister for Citizen Protection Michalis Chrisochoidis told reporters during a press briefing while visiting the construction site at the border region of Evros last week that “borders remain secure and inviolable” as he announced the completion of a 25-mile long steel wall and new surveillance systems.
Neighboring Turkey has also expressed concerns over a potential wave of illegal immigrants coming from Afghanistan, with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling on nations in Europe to shoulder the responsibility for people fleeing Taliban terrorists, warning that the country will not become Europe’s “refugee warehouse.”
Recent events in Afghanistan have fueled some European countries to resist a possible repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis when nearly 1 million people fleeing the Middle East and beyond crossed into Greece from Turkey before traveling north to wealthier states.
UNHCR’s Rep. for Afghanistan, Caroline Van Buren, issued a statement on Aug. 26 that details the current situation in the country and how UN staff and partners are helping displaced people there.
“The past week has been an extremely turbulent one for Afghanistan, but UNHCR staff and partners remain in the country, delivering aid and protection to many of the country’s 3.5 million internally displaced people, including over half a million forced to flee their homes since the start of this year,” UNHCR officials said in the statement.
The UNHCR representative explained that UN staff and partners are currently helping in 34 Afghan provinces and the Taliban terrorist group has so far respected premises and operations from the agency that is mandated to aid and protect refugees that have been forcibly displaced.
She also said the degree of sporadic gunfire has dropped off compared to the first couple of days, though the situation is changing constantly.
Over the last couple of days, thousands of people have crossed the Spin Boldak border into Pakistan, which is currently the only region that is open as most borders are closed.
“These are not necessarily asylum-seekers; this is a very busy border and these are the numbers that we have regularly,” the UN said.
For other border points, like Iran, travel documentation and a visa is required prior to crossing. Van Buren noted that some people are using smugglers right now to move through irregular border points. The borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan are currently closed and other borders are only open for commercial traffic.
Reuters contributed to this report.