To search, type one or more key words below.
Search Search the web.
 Page Bottom 

The Exodus From Afghanistan

A refugee crisis is brewing in Afghanistan that dwarfs the 1999 departure of 800,000 Albanians from Kosovo in the wake of Slobodan Milosevic's spasm of ethnic violence there. Millions of Afghans are fleeing their homes, partly in disgust with the Taliban but mostly in fear that America is getting ready to bomb their country. They are joining millions who have already fled, victims of 22 years of war and drought.

The Bush administration, fortunately, has announced that it will join with other nations to provide food for the Afghans. Helping the refugees and devising ways to get food aid to those too poor to flee are not only the right things to do, they signal the Afghan people and the Islamic world that America's quarrel is with terrorists, not Muslims.

Pakistan is already host to 2.5 million Afghan refugees, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is planning for 1.5 million more. While the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the West essentially paid for the refugees' support. Today the burden falls disproportionately on Pakistan, a country that cannot feed its own citizens.

Pakistan has tried to discourage the new exodus by closing the border and making its refugee camps as miserable as it can. It has allowed only a few thousand in, while tens of thousands more are massing on the Afghan side. These displaced Afghans are largely out of reach of international help.

To save them, Pakistan must be persuaded to open the border and set up viable, internationally run refugee camps. The West must take the financial burden off Pakistan and help it care for a group of people whose stay might well be a long one.

Those in danger of actual starvation are the ones still inside Afghanistan, too poor to flee. War and a four-year drought have so depleted food stocks that Afghans are eating animal fodder, locusts and even poisonous grasses. A hard winter approaches, and there are no seeds left to plant when spring comes. Before Sept. 11, the U.N.'s World Food Program, working through 150 different nongovernmental groups, was feeding 3.8 million people inside Afghanistan.

On Sept. 12 all foreign aid workers left Afghanistan. Now there is only enough food left for those 3.8 million refugees for a maximum of three weeks, according to the World Food Program. The U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, said this week that 7.5 million Afghans, in the country and outside, would need food from the international community over the next six months. He has appealed for $584 million more in aid.

The United States has said it will join the appeal, but has not yet specified a donation. Yesterday Mr. Bush announced a $25 million gift for general aid to the refugees. Washington has been the largest donor of food for the Afghan people, and has continued sending food aid after Sept. 11. Delivering food by truck to the parts of Afghanistan under Taliban control is, for the moment, impossible, and flying low enough to carry out an airlift is risky. But the hope is that the next time rural Afghans hear a plane approaching, they will find the United States and its allies dropping bags of wheat rather than the bombs that the Taliban says are coming.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times CompanyPrivacy Information

horizontal line
What's New Page to home page e-mail  Page Top