Afghans Flee Homes as U.S. Pulls Back

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from The Wall Street Journal,

More than 590,000 Afghans had been displaced by fighting and Taliban threats by late August.

More than 590,000 Afghans had been displaced from their homes by fighting and Taliban threats by late August, according to the United Nations, a 21% increase since January and more than four times the number in 2006, when the insurgency began in earnest. Wazira, who like many Afghans goes by one name, is one of more than 12,000 displaced people from Wardak province alone who now share homes around Kabul, according to the U.N.

U.N. officials worry that widening violence could kick off an exodus abroad when American-led forces leave the country next year.

For those trying to leave Afghanistan altogether, the first stop often is neighboring Iran or Pakistan. Some who are wealthy or lucky enough head for Europe or Australia, which already is coping with an influx of Afghan boat people. Some 38,000 people from Afghanistan have managed to get into industrialized nations to apply for asylum last year, more than from any other country, according to the U.N., and the highest figure since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

“The desperation is incredible,” says Richard Danziger, the Afghanistan head of the International Organization for Migration, a U.N. affiliate that is helping resettle the refugees.

A confidential preliminary report drafted by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal describes a scenario that would see some 200,000 Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran next year.

Afghanistan’s displacement and refugee problem stretches back over three decades of warfare. The number of displaced Afghans and asylum seekers initially peaked in 2001 when the Taliban government was toppled, then declined during the first few years of the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But as the insurgency gained momentum from 2007, the numbers rapidly climbed.

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