Europe Urged to Do More to Help Afghan Refugees Arriving in Iran
(Bloomberg) -- A lack of funds, political tensions and U.S. sanctions are hindering aid agency efforts to help tens of thousands of Afghan refugees arriving in Iran each week following the Taliban takeover, according to a top European aid official.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said Europe remained focused on preventing Afghans reaching its shores rather than assisting the overwhelming majority of families seeking safe havens in neighboring Iran and Pakistan.
“Ninety percent of Afghan refugees are not in Europe, they’re in Iran and Pakistan. So how come there’s so little support for the aid operation in Iran?” Egeland said in interview in Tehran late on Wednesday.
According to the NRC between 4,000 and 5,000 Afghans illegally cross Iran’s porous 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Afghanistan everyday, with 300,000 having arrived in the country since August, when the fundamentalist Islamist Taliban took power following the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Iran has closed all its border posts to refugees -- and Egeland said those who do cross can’t be tracked or registered because of insufficient resources.
“At the moment, there are very few operation centers, if at all. The primary operation in Iran is by the Iranian government,” Egeland said, adding that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the NRC are heavily underfunded in the area.
He also urged Iranian officials to open the country’s frontier to families fleeing Afghanistan as it faces an economic collapse and the risk of famine.
Around 3.5 million Afghans have been officially registered in Iran over the past 40 years, and the country supports one of the biggest refugee populations in the world.
With its economy again heavily sanctioned by the U.S. since 2018, Iran faces its own challenges and has in the past tied its willingness to cooperate with the European Union over refugee issues to the bloc’s support for the 2015 nuclear deal and broader political relations.
“For a full year after the Trump administration’s sanctions were enacted, we couldn’t find a single bank in the world that was willing and able to transfer our aid money to the Afghan refugees in Iran, and banks are still freezing NRC transfers,” Egeland said.
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