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UN Moves 100 International Staff Out of Afghanistan

FILE - A Marine escorts a Department of State employee to be processed for evacuation, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. The U.N. also evacuated about 100 staff, moving them to Kazakhstan on Aug. 18, 2021.

The United Nations relocated about 100 international staff from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan on Wednesday, as the international community waits to see if the situation will stabilize after the Taliban seized control on Sunday.

"This is a temporary measure intended to enable the U.N. to keep delivering assistance to the people of Afghanistan with the minimum of disruption, while at the same time, reducing risk to U.N. personnel," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

The staff will be relocated to a temporary office in the Kazakh city of Almaty where they will work remotely.

The organization had about 300 international staff on the ground in Afghanistan until now, and about 3,000 national staff.

"It is a way of lightening the footprint, for obvious reasons," Dujarric said, noting they would return when the U.N. feels "the situation allows it."

He added that the organization is working hard to protect Afghan staff members and their families.

"We are continuing to explore every avenue possible to support national personnel," Dujarric said.

Caroline Van Buren, the U.N. Refugee Agency representative in Afghanistan, told reporters in a video briefing that some national staff want to stay, while others want to leave, particularly women.

"Especially the women," Van Buren said. "They are very concerned about whether they will be able to work. Male staff are concerned about their female children, whether they will be able to go to school. Today, I got reaction from some women who felt that the situation was getting back to normal, but the majority of the women, if they could leave, they would leave."

The UNHCR has urged neighboring countries to keep their borders open and to not refuse Afghans seeking asylum.

Van Buren noted that most Afghans do not have the travel documents or visas required to travel abroad, so many have left through irregular channels. She said some 20,000 to 30,000 people have been leaving weekly, mostly to Iran, and some to Pakistan.

Human rights violations

There have been reports of growing human rights abuses, particularly directed at the female population, which suffered severe repression under the Taliban in the 1990s.

The UNHCR representative said her office had reports of women not being allowed to go to work in some areas or not being allowed to move without a close male relative.

"Even though this is not reported in all areas, we are getting some of these reports, and this is, of course, of real concern," she said.

U.N. Women said Wednesday it is following developments with "grave concern."

"We call on Afghanistan to secure the fundamental human rights of all, including women and girls, and to meet their obligations to protect civilians and to provide humanitarians with unimpeded access to deliver timely and life-saving services and aid," U.N. Women said in a statement. "Women's and girls' rights must be at the core of the global response to the current crisis."

Meanwhile, the U.N. Children's Agency, UNICEF, said it has not had any indication that the Taliban will prevent girls from attending school.

"This is a period of transition in Afghanistan. No one can predict what happens next," UNICEF Afghanistan representative Herve Ludovic De Lys told reporters from Kabul. "But I can tell you that as recently as yesterday, primary and secondary schools were open in Herat in the west, and in Marouf, in the south of the country, 1,500 children were in school, including 500 girls."

He said it was also an encouraging sign that on Tuesday, Afghanistan's health commission asked all doctors, nurses and health workers to return to work, including women.

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