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Afghanistan: New EU Humanitarian Air Bridge delivers life-saving medical aid

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Another EU Humanitarian Air Bridge flight has delivered more than 28 tonnes of life-saving medical cargo to Kabul to address the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. The EU-funded air bridge flight enables the World Health Organisation, as well as humanitarian organisations such as ‘Emergency' and ‘Première Urgence Internationale' to deliver critical health items to those in need. On the occasion, Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: ”This is the third EU Humanitarian Air Bridge flight since the fall of Kabul in August this year. This EU-funded flight represents an important lifeline to Afghans in urgent need of medical care. However, the overall humanitarian situation is rapidly worsening. In this view and the approaching winter, I urge the entire international community to step up and provide for life-saving aid to millions of Afghans whose lives depend on it.”

The life-saving cargo consists of medical equipment to conduct surgeries and medical drugs. On top of this third EU-funded flight to Kabul this week, further flights are scheduled for the coming weeks as an expression of EU solidarity with the people of Afghanistan.

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Afghanistan

'Just give us our money': Taliban push to unlock Afghan billions abroad

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A mother shops with her children at the market in Kabul, Afghanistan October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Sameerullah, 11,  a shoeshine boy cleans a shoe along the market in Kabul, Afghanistan October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Afghanistan's Taliban government is pressing for the release of billions of dollars of central bank reserves as the drought-stricken nation faces a cash crunch, mass starvation and a new migration crisis, write Karin Strohecker in London and James MacKenzie, John O'Donnell and John O'Donnell.

Afghanistan parked billions of dollars in assets overseas with the US Federal Reserve and other central banks in Europe, but that money has been frozen since the Islamist Taliban ousted the Western-backed government in August.

A spokesman for the finance ministry said the government would respect human rights, including the education of women, as he sought fresh funds on top of humanitarian aid that he said offered only "small relief".

Under Taliban rule from 1996-2001, women were largely shut out of paid employment and education and normally had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home.

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"The money belongs to the Afghan nation. Just give us our own money," ministry spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal told Reuters. "Freezing this money is unethical and is against all international laws and values."

One top central bank official called on European countries including Germany to release their share of the reserves to avoid an economic collapse that could trigger mass migration towards Europe.

"The situation is desperate and the amount of cash is dwindling," Shah Mehrabi, a board member of the Afghan Central Bank, told Reuters. "There is enough right now ... to keep Afghanistan going until the end of the year.

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"Europe is going to be affected most severely, if Afghanistan does not get access to this money," said Mehrabi.

"You will have a double whammy of not being able to find bread and not being able to afford it. People will be desperate. They are going to go to Europe," he said.

The call for assistance comes as Afghanistan faces a collapse of its fragile economy. The departure of US-led forces and many international donors left the country without grants that financed three quarters of public spending.

The finance ministry said it had a daily tax take of roughly 400 million Afghanis ($4.4 million).

Although Western powers want to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, they have refused to officially recognise the Taliban government.

Haqmal said Afghanistan would allow women an education, although not in the same classrooms as men.

Human rights, he said, would be respected but within the framework of Islamic law, which would not include gay rights.

"LGBT... That's against our Sharia law," he said.

Mehrabi hopes that while the United States has recently said it will not release its lion's share of roughly $9 billion of funds, European countries might.

He said Germany held half a billion dollars of Afghan money and that it and other European countries should release those funds.

Mehrabi said that Afghanistan needed $150m each month to "prevent imminent crisis", keeping the local currency and prices stable, adding that any transfer could be monitored by an auditor.

"If reserves remain frozen, Afghan importers will not be able to pay for their shipments, banks will start to collapse, food will be become scarce, grocery stores will be empty," Mehrabi said.

He said that about $431m of central bank reserves were held with German lender Commerzbank, as well as a further roughly $94m with Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank.

The Bank for International Settlements, an umbrella group for global central banks in Switzerland, holds a further approximately $660m. All three declined to comment.

The Taliban took back power in Afghanistan in August after the United States pulled out its troops, almost 20 years after the Islamists were ousted by US-led forces following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

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Kazakhstan concern at 'escalation of tensions' in Afghanistan

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The president of Kazakhstan says the country is “closely monitoring” the current situation in neighbouring Afghanistan following the takeover by the Taliban, writes Colin Stevens.

Concerns are growing in Kazakhstan about continuing instability across the border, and also about a rising influx of refugees seeking resettlement from war-torn Afghanistan.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev recently convened a high-level meeting of government ministers and officials to discuss what many see as a worsening situation in Afghanistan. The heads of law enforcement agencies in Afghanistan were also involved in the talks.

Other participants included Kazak Prime Minister Askar Mamin, heads of the National Security Committee, the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Internal Affairs and the Emergency Situation, along with the General Prosecutor’s Office and State Security Service.

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President spokesperson Berik Uali said a “prompt response to the situation in Afghanistan considering the national interests of Kazakhstan and issues of ensuring the security of our people” were discussed.

He added, “The President instructed the government to continue closely monitoring the development of the situation in Afghanistan, which is extremely important for making decisions regarding further cooperation with this country.”

President Tokayev, after the meeting, spoke about an “escalation of tensions” in Afghanistan and the need “to take measures to ensure the safety of our people and diplomats in Afghanistan.”

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Many nations have desperately scrambled to evacuate their diplomats and citizens since the Taliban takeover in August.

Another issue under spotlight is the temporary settlement of refugees from Afghanistan and a possible threat to security.

 The Chairman of the Kazakhstan Council on International Relations Erlan Karin has sought to allay such fears, saying that the situation in Afghanistan poses no direct threat to Central Asia.

But he admitted, “Of course, as people we have some anxiety. One of the threats posed by the Taliban movement is related to the fact that they gave shelter to various other radical groups.

Kazakhstan, meanwhile, says it has  evacuated a group of ethnic-Kazakh Afghan nationals from Kabul to the Central Asian nation as countries continue to try and move people out of the war-torn country following the Taliban's seizure of power.

According to Kazakh officials, there are about 200 ethnic-Kazakh Afghans in Afghanistan although the actual figure is thought to be much higher.

Since Taliban militants took control of almost all of Afghanistan  many Afghans have urged Kazakh authorities to take them to Kazakhstan, claiming to be ethnic Kazakhs.

But there is thought to be growing discontent of some Kazakhstanis with the situation in which the state was supposedly providing significant humanitarian support to Afghanistan instead of helping its own citizens in need.

Dauren Abayev, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Kazakhstan, said, “Kazakhstan is not the only country rendering assistance to Afghanistan.The international community must assist in providing the necessary environment for the return of normalcy to Afghanistan after decades of armed conflict. Unless that happens, unless the normal life is restored in that war-torn country, the risk of incursions and attacks by extremist forces, the threat of drug trafficking and radicalism will always invisibly hang over us all”.

As the international community reacts to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, one proposal that has been suggested is the deployment of a United Nations-led peacekeeping mission to Kabul in order to create a safe zone for future evacuations. The UN already has a mission in Afghanistan, which has temporarily relocated some staff to Kazakhstan to continue its operations.

A Brussels-based expert on Central Asia said, “Afghanistan has been facing severe financial constraints due to blocking of the foreign aid flow to the country. The Afghan population suffers a shortage of food supplies. The resumption of food delivery to Afghanistan is, therefore, very important for normalizing the situation in the country.

“The way things are, Kazakhstan seems to have the highest stake in the restoration of economic stability in Afghanistan.”

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Afghanistan: Commission announces €1 billion Afghan support package

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During the G20 meeting on Afghanistan, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will announce a support package worth around €1 billion for the Afghan people and neighbouring countries, addressing the urgent needs in the country and the region. The socio-economic situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, putting hundreds of thousands of Afghans at risk as winter approaches. Humanitarian assistance alone will not be enough to avert famine and a major humanitarian crisis.

Overall EU development aid to Afghanistan remains frozen. The five benchmarks agreed by EU Foreign Ministers remain valid. They must be met before regular development co-operation can resume.

The announcement follows the discussion of the EU Ministers for development to have a calibrated approach to give direct support to the Afghan population in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe without legitimising the Taliban interim government.

President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We must do all we can to avert a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse in Afghanistan. We need to do it fast. We have been clear about our conditions for any engagement with the Afghan authorities, including on the respect of human rights. So far, the reports speak for themselves. But the Afghan people should not pay the price of the Taliban's actions. This is why the Afghan support package is for the Afghan people and the country´s neighbours who have been the first in providing them with help.”

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Afghan support package

The Afghan support package combines EU humanitarian aid with the delivery of targeted support on basic needs in direct benefit of the Afghan people and neighbouring countries.

Today's package includes the €300 million for humanitarian purposes already agreed. This humanitarian support is accompanied by additional, specialized support for vaccinations, sheltering, as well as the protection of civilians and human rights.

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The European Commission is working to make it possible to use funds intended for Afghanistan to the order of at least €250m for "humanitarian plus" support to Afghan people in urgent needs, notably in the field of health, in full respect of NDICI programming procedures.

This funding will be in direct support of the local population and will be channelled to international organisations on the ground, while respecting the principles of engagement established by the Council Conclusions agreed by EU Foreign Ministers on 21 September.

Afghanistan's direct neighbours have been the first to provide safety to the Afghans who have fled the country. This is why additional funds will be allocated to support these countries in migration management, as well as in co-operation on terrorism prevention, fight against organised crime and migrant smuggling.

Taken together, the different strands of support for the Afghan people will amount to around €1bn.

As highlighted at the EU High-level Forum on providing protection to Afghans at risk, safe and legal pathways to protection in the EU include in the short-term the safe passage of Afghans affiliated to the EU and its member states and vulnerable groups such as human rights defenders, women, journalists, civil society activists, police and law enforcement officials, judges and professionals of the justice system, including their families.

In the mid and long-term, the Commission will support with a multiannual scheme Member States that decide to host Afghans at risk through EU funding for resettlements and humanitarian admission and other complementary pathways, as well as operational assistance by EU Justice and Home Affairs agencies.

Background

The Afghan support package was announced by the president of the European Commission in her speech on the State of the European Union on 15 September.

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