Afghanistan's neighbours prepare for refugee influx

Afghanistan's neighbours prepare for refugee influx as Taliban capture Kabul
3 min read
17 August, 2021
Afghanistan's neighbouring countries are preparing to face an influx of refugees as civilians, along with government and military personnel flee Taliban rule.
Afghan civilians, officials and military personnel are fleeing Afghanistan [Getty]

Afghanistan's neighbours are preparing for an influx of refugees, following the government's surrender to the hardline Islamist Taliban group.

The Taliban ripped through the country in a matter of weeks, capturing all of its major cities before taking capital city Kabul on Sunday, as the US withdraws from the country.

Since the rapid Taliban advance, Afghan civilians, officials, and military personnel have fled in large numbers to neighbouring countries, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. 

Refugees are also moving from Iran into Turkey, though Ankara has stepped up security at its border.

On Sunday, hundreds of Afghan soldiers fled to Uzbekistan in 22 military planes and 24 helicopters over the weekend. One aircraft collided with an escorting Uzbek fighter jet, causing both to crash, Uzbek prosecutors said on Monday.

A total of 585 Afghan soldiers arrived on aircraft and 158 more crossed the border on foot, the Uzbek prosecutor general's office said in a statement.

On Monday, Tajikstan's foreign affairs ministry said several military aircraft carrying over 100 Afghan soldiers in total have landed at an airport in the Tajik city of Bokhtar.

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Tajik authorities allowed the aircraft to enter the country's airspace and land after receiving a distress signal from them, Russia's RIA news agency quoted the ministry as saying.

Iran's foreign ministry on Monday urged the international community to help displaced Afghans and welcomed the establishment of a coordination council to ensure a "peaceful transfer of power".

"We hope the international community and the responsible bodies will pay serious attention to this issue, and especially in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak, will hasten to their inherent duties to help these displaced persons without delay," ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted by the ministry's website.

Khatibzadeh voiced Iran's support for intra-Afghan dialogue as a means to settle problems in Afghanistan and insisted on Tehran's support for a "peaceful transfer of power" through a coordination council of Afghanistan's major leaders.

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He added that the ministry is in contact with all main parties in Afghanistan and with its diplomatic staff of Iran's embassy in Kabul, as well as its consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat.

Hossein Ghassemi, director-general of border affairs at Iran's interior ministry, said in an interview with official news agency IRNA that temporary accommodation has been prepared for Afghan refugees in all three Iranian provinces neighbouring Afghanistan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Ankara is intensifying measures to stop the influx of refugees from Afghanistan and is working with Pakistan to stabilise the region.

"Turkey is facing a growing migratory wave of Afghans transiting through Iran," he said alongside his Pakistan counterpart, Arif Alvi.

He added that a wall currently being built by Turkey along its border with Iran will halt the entry of the Afghan refugees who are projected to enter.

"With this wall, we will totally stop the arrivals," Erdogan said Sunday.

Ankara is speeding up its construction of the wall with the opposition calling for stronger measures to prevent Afghan refugees from entering Turkey via Iran.

Ali Hekmat, head of the Turkish-based Afghan Refugee Solidarity Association, said many Afghan refugees who are already in Iran are desperate to leave.

"I am expecting that more refugees will be moving to Turkey from Iran because lots of Afghan army and authorities escaped into Iran. Yesterday, the Iranian government sent them back to Afghanistan. So, most of the refugees are afraid [of] Iran pushing them back to Afghanistan. So, it's the best choice to arrive in Turkey, and maybe they will be near Europe," Hekmat said.

On Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the capital city fell to the Taliban. Nikita Ishchenko, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Kabul, claimed he fled with cash and cars.