Focus shifts to land borders as Afghans continue to flee the Taliban

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With the US’ full exit from Afghanistan, Kabul airport is no longer the center for evacuations, and with the changing dynamic the country’s land borders are now the focus for many people clambering to escape the Taliban.

The odds that the tens of thousands of Afghans left behind from the US withdrawal will reach one of those borders without Taliban interference, be allowed to cross into a neighboring country and then be resettled in the US are daunting, according to NBC News.

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Nongovernmental organizations and international aid groups told NBC that they are unable to tell Afghans where to go next.

“My sense of the issue is that the borders are incredibly crowded. There is a lot of violence. Some are open for visa holders, and others are not. Some have gotten into Pakistan. A lot have not,” said Becca Heller, executive director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, which helps refugees after they have left the country and are looking for legal assistance to resettle in the US.

As a result of the confusion, many organizations are telling Afghan employees and others looking to evacuate to shelter in place until they have more information, according to nongovernmental organizations that operate in Afghanistan, NBC reported.

Taliban commando fighters stand guard in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, southwestern, Afghanistan, Friday, August 27, 2021. (File photo: AP)
Taliban commando fighters stand guard in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, southwestern, Afghanistan, Friday, August 27, 2021. (File photo: AP)

Reports of which borders may be safe to cross appear to be mixed. And the UN’s main refugee agency says there is no evidence so far that a major wave of refugees is fleeing across the land borders.

“We have not seen a large-scale flow of people out of Afghanistan. We know that could change,” Chris Boian, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR told the news outlet.

There were indications that more Afghans were crossing the borders into Iran and Pakistan, but it was unclear whether they were seeking asylum, he said.

Bilal Askaryar, communications director of Welcome With Dignity, a coalition of immigrant and refugee advocacy organizations, told NBC that there had been reports of the Taliban stopping Afghans on the road to land borders.

Many Afghans are being told to hide or to destroy identity documents when they encounter the Taliban at checkpoints.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, called on Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to help absorb what could be many refugees.

“Some Afghans will inevitably need to seek safety across the country’s borders. They must be able to exercise their right to seek international protection, and borders must be kept open for them for this purpose,” Grandi told NBC. “Those countries that neighbor Afghanistan who have been taking in refugees for decades need greater support.”

Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan met last week to discuss the situation, but they have so far made no commitments about how those fleeing the country would be treated. Iran and Pakistan have historically taken in millions of Afghan refugees over four decades, many of whom still live in those countries.

The UN Security Council voted on Thursday to set out minimum expectations of the Taliban, including that they honor their “stated commitments to ensure safe passage” for all trying to leave.

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