An international aid group says an estimated 300,000 Afghans, including women and children, have fled across the border into Iran in search of safety since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) released its findings Wednesday, saying the numbers continue to rise, while “between 4,000 and 5,000 Afghans are fleeing into Iran each day via informal border crossings.”
The NRC’s Iranian operation is supporting these families in addition to hundreds of thousands Afghans who have been sheltering in the country for years, it said. Tehran is grappling with a deepening economic crisis of its own.
“Iran cannot be expected to host so many Afghans with so little support from the international community,” said NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland, who is visiting the country this week and speaking to the families. “There must be an immediate scale up of aid both inside Afghanistan and in neighboring countries like Iran, before the deadly winter cold.”
The Taliban marched into the Afghan capital, Kabul, on August 15 after overrunning the rest of country in stunning battlefield victories against Western-backed former Afghan government forces as the United States and NATO militaries withdrew from the country.
The Islamist group’s return to power prompted tens of thousands of people to flee the country on U.S.-led chaotic emergency evacuation flights to meet the August 31 withdrawal deadline for foreign troops.
Former Afghan government officials, security forces and those who served international forces in different capacities over the past 20 years were among those who departed Afghanistan fearing Taliban reprisals.
Western countries have since cut off financial aid and blocked the Taliban’s access to nearly $10 billion Afghan central bank assets, largely held in the U.S. over human rights concerns.
The sanctions have triggered fears of an economic meltdown in Afghanistan where the United Nations says years of war and a prolonged drought have threatened nearly 23 million people with starvation this winter compared to 14 million just two months ago.
The U.N. refugee agency’s appeal for nearly $300 million to support Afghans fleeing to neighboring countries is only 32 percent funded so far.
Pakistan, which already hosts about 3 million Afghans fleeing four decades of conflict and ensuing economic difficulties, has tightened border controls since the Taliban takeover of the neighboring country to block any new influx of Afghan refugees.
Pakistani authorities have been urging the world to establish temporary camps inside Afghanistan to contain fleeing families, saying Islamabad’s own economic troubles do not allow it absorb new refugees.