UN staff in Afghanistan feel abandoned as the rise of the Taliban

When the Taliban came to power last week, Afghans working for the United Nations saw many of their foreign colleagues boarding planes to leave the country.

But coming out for their own increasingly frustrating help – or at least staying in a safe place if the Taliban target them for the work of their international organization – is being ignored, according to interviews and emails seen by BuzzFeed News.

Current and former staffers are outraged that the UN, which has been working in Afghanistan since 2002, appears to have no plans to evacuate thousands of Afghan nationals and has given them a few options but to stay home and search for militants.

In phone calls and texts, four Afghan nationals working for the UN told BuzzFeed News that the UN had not offered them safe accommodation in Kabul, but had sought refuge with some relatives. They noted that Afghans working for the United Nations carry much higher risks in the country than their international counterparts, and that their work could put them at a disadvantage. Reuters reported on Tuesday that Taliban fighters had vandalized multiple UN compounds since coming to power last week.

“They are very visible in the community,” said a former UN international worker, who asked not to be named. “The Taliban know exactly who these people are.”

The United Nations has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

A spokesman for the secretary-general, Stephen Dujarric, told a news conference on August 18 that the United Nations could not easily deport Afghans because it was “not a visa-issuing nation”.

He added that the UN is doing “the highest” for national employees and their families. “There are all sorts of administrative hurdles that need to be discussed and discussed,” Dujarric said. “But the national staff is far ahead in what we’re trying to do every day.”

The organization has about 9,000 international staff members and 3,000,000 Afghan national staff in Afghanistan, working for UN missions as well as organizations such as the United Nations Development Program and UN Women. The agency said on August 1 that about 100 international workers would be temporarily leaving for Kazakhstan.

UN-based news site Pass Blue reported on Friday that Afghan citizens working for the organization felt “alone and terrified.” A new account of Afghan workers in the story begs the Taliban for no help in hiding – even a word heard that militants are asking around him where he is – raising further questions about whether the UN has properly planned to protect local workers. . The Taliban have stepped up their military offensive against the Afghan government, which began in May.

“They had a few months to prepare for it,” said the former international.

An Afghan employee working in the operations department of a UN agency said he and his colleagues had repeatedly raised the issue of evictions in the chat box of the Zoom meeting with colleagues and seniors last week, but had received no response. (BuzzFeed News has withheld the identification details of the four Afghan workers interviewed for this article so as not to avert their danger.)

“They usually read the chat box,” he said. “This time they were watching the chat but trying to change the subject and trying to finish everything.”

The employee said he asked his senior officials that the UN would help him and other Afghan workers who hold valid international visas. But he was told that the organization could only try to get him out, forcing him to leave his wife and young child.

“How understandable is that?” He said. “Will I leave my family behind when I leave the country? It’s not acceptable to me or the national staff – it’s against human values, it’s against human values. ”

Other Afghan staff members described similar meetings.

“They’re just playing a game with us. There is a meeting every week where they say they are trying their best. “What kind of attempt is this? If small embassy staff can be removed, why can’t the UN?”

It is not clear how many UN international staff have been evacuated from Afghanistan, but four told BuzzFeed News that high-level international staff had been evacuated and that it appeared to be mainly Afghans.

Liam McDowell, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told PASWL that the United Nations was pressuring other countries to apply for visas and temporary residency requests from members of the Afghan staff and their families.

Unama did not respond to calls or emails for this article.

Staff interviewed by BuzzFeed News also said that UN officials told them they were campaigning for visas so they could move to another country, but some said they felt it was too late, too late.

“Now is not the time for visas,” said an Afghan staffer at UNDP. “We have UN credentials, they can remove them immediately in consultation with other countries.”

A UN staffer who called on the UN to remove its female Afghan staff out of concern about the abuse of women by the Taliban, told BuzzFeed News he called for help for Afghan workers at town hall meetings and through local and global staff associations.

“No one listened to us,” he said. “No one is listening.”

“They told us we had to ‘stay and deliver,'” he said, quoting a UN slogan about his presence in Afghanistan.

The United Nations has relocated some of its Afghan staff to Kabul to reduce their risk but has not kept them in a safe place.

“They didn’t live in a safe haven, they were left on their own devices,” said the former international staffer, speaking directly to Afghan staff.

The World Bank has fired all of its Afghan-based staff, Reuters reported on August 20.

A group of UN unions and workers’ unions launched a petition calling on the UN Secretary-General to take “all necessary measures” to protect workers. It has about 5,300 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We are all supposed to protect human rights, and now we are leaving ourselves to defend ourselves,” said Aurora Anksha, a UN observer. “Shame on the United Nations and its leadership.”

“This whole ‘stay and deliver’ message that the UN is preaching, we should ask ourselves who is staying?” He added.

An Unama activist who said he was hiding in a remote area told BuzzFeed News that Taliban militants were asking his neighbors about his whereabouts. He worked on sensitive political projects and he believed he could be targeted.

“Everyone here knows I’m working with Unama,” he said. “I’m high profile.”

He told BuzzFeed News that he had asked his department to move him to a safer location, where militants would be difficult to identify if he spoke to locals just days before Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. A few days later, after the militant group had already seized power, a response advised him to hide at home, according to an email he shared with BuzzFeed News.

“I’m like a prisoner,” he said. “I can’t go out, I can’t see anyone. How long can I stay here like this? “

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