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Few Aid Groups In Afghanistan Believe The Taliban's Assurances, So They're Staying

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

U.N. agencies and other aid groups say they are staying in Afghanistan, but there are concerns about the safety of Afghans working for international organizations. Few believe the assurances they're getting from the Taliban, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Jan Egeland runs the Norwegian Refugee Council and says he employs 1,600 mostly Afghan aid workers all across the country.

JAN EGELAND: Well, we've had the famous knock on the door now in many of the provinces where we work.

KELEMEN: Taliban fighters came to their offices, he explains, to say we know who you are and you can continue to work.

EGELAND: What worries me is, will we be able to do girls education? We cannot do education at all if we cannot equally educate boys and girls. And what kind of freedom of movement would there be for our female employees? We need to ensure that they will have full freedom of movement because they are an essential part of our program.

KELEMEN: Those are just some of the many questions facing humanitarian groups. A Taliban official can say one thing in Kabul, while local fighters elsewhere can threaten aid workers and impose their own local rules. One U.N. official says the Taliban has no clear command structure, and that causes a lot of uncertainty. Egeland, a former top U.N. official and Norwegian diplomat, has long experience in the region and says aid work in Afghanistan has always been difficult. On Sunday, the day the previous government collapsed, he tried to reassure his staff that the Norwegian Refugee Council isn't leaving.

EGELAND: We want you, as Afghan valued staff, to believe that you can stay, that you can have a career with us, that we will provide salaries. And, of course, that is also the message to all of the humanitarian donors. We need to be there in the coming years.

KELEMEN: Afghanistan was already facing drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, and its economy was largely dependent on foreign aid. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been trying to rally countries to pressure the Taliban to form an inclusive government to respect basic rights and to allow those who fear life under Taliban rule to leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIO GUTERRES: I think it's very important for the international community to be united and to have a common front in discussion with the Taliban for these conditions to take place.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with G-7 foreign ministers today about the way ahead in Afghanistan. Spokesperson Ned Price puts it this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NED PRICE: The leaders agree that the international community's relationship with the Taliban will depend on their actions and not their words.

KELEMEN: U.S. military officials have been talking to the Taliban about the ongoing evacuations. Price describes those conversations as productive. The State Department is also reaching out to countries around the world, asking them to house Afghans while they await U.S. visas. Price says there are offers from Albania, Uganda, Canada, Mexico and Chile. He says the U.S. is sending more consular officers to Qatar and Kuwait, both key transit points.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA SONG, "ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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