U.N. ‘deeply concerned’ about civilians trapped by fighting in southern Afghanistan: Spokesman

UNITED NATIONS, (MANEND NEWS): The United Nations is ‘deeply concerned’ about the safety and protection of tens of thousands of people in Lashkar Gah, capital of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, who could be trapped by fighting between government forces and the Taliban, according to a U.N. spokesman.

Taliban fighters have moved in on three provincial capitals in the last few days and seized territory nationwide since U.S. said it planned a complete withdrawal of troops by September.

“Since the start of the year nearly 360,000 people have been forcibly displaced by the conflict in Afghanistan. About 5 million people have been displaced since 2012,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at the regular noon briefing at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday.

Fighting has been particularly heavy around the city of Herat, near the western border with Iran, and Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.

“We’re deeply concerned about the safety and protection of people in Lashkar Gah, in the south, where tens of thousands of people could be trapped by the fighting,” Dujarric said.

He also said in Helmand and Kandahar “there are reported increased civilian casualties, destruction or damage to civilian houses, as well as to critical infrastructure and hospitals.”

Attacks on health facilities in the first half of the year have deprived 200,000 people in Afghanistan of access to basic care, the spokesman said.

“We urge the parties to the conflict to protect civilians, aid workers and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, in compliance with international humanitarian law. ”

Also, he said, humanitarians are committed to staying and delivering in Afghanistan and expect to have reached almost half of the nearly 16 million people targeted for assistance so far in 2021, despite the worsening conditions.

In Washington, the United States State Department on Monday announced a programme under which thousands of US-affiliated Afghans will have a chance to resettle as refugees in the United States. Afghans in the progamme would have to make their own way to a third country, where they will wait 12 to 14 months for their application to be processed.

A senior UN State Department official said that Washington was in touch with Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, to keep their borders open for Afghans refugees.

“So in a place like Pakistan, it’ll be important that their borders remain open,” the official said. “Obviously, if people go north or if they go via Iran to Turkey – we’ve already seen some arrivals in Turkey – that people have an opportunity both to enter the country as well as to register with either the government or with UNHCR.”

Pakistan has already said it is no longer in a position to accept Afghan refugees — it currently hosts about 3.5 million.

“We under no circumstances are prepared to see protracted instability that in the past has caused spillover into Pakistan,” National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf told reporters in Washington.

“Peace in Afghanistan is nonnegotiable for us,” he said. “We, under no circumstances, are prepared to see protracted instability that in the past has caused spillover into Pakistan.”

According to a report from Ankara, Turkey also criticized the U.S. programme that offers potential resettlement to Afghans who may be targeted by the Taliban due to their U.S. affiliations, saying the move would cause a “great migration crisis” in the region.

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