EU announces 1bn euro aid package for Afghanistan

The bloc’s chief makes the pledge at a G20 summit addressing humanitarian and security situations in Afghanistan.

In this file photo from September, Afghan women and children receive bread donations in Kabul's Old City [File: Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]

The European Union has pledged a one-billion-euro ($1.15bn) aid package for Afghanistan, “to avert a major humanitarian and socioeconomic collapse”, the bloc’s chief Ursula von der Leyen has said.

The money adds 250 million euros ($288m) to a 300-million-euro ($346m) sum the EU previously announced for urgent humanitarian needs, with the remainder going to Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries taking in Afghans fleeing Taliban rule, a statement said on Tuesday.

Von der Leyen made the pledge at a virtual G20 summit hosted by Italy dedicated to discussing the humanitarian and security situation in Afghanistan.

After a previous G7 meeting on Afghanistan following the August takeover by the Taliban, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had been pushing for a broader discussion involving other world powers.

The G20 includes the United States, EU, China, Turkey, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Von der Leyen’s statement stressed that the EU funds are “direct support” for Afghans and would be channelled to international organisations working on the ground, not to the Taliban’s interim government, which Brussels does not recognise.

EU development aid – different from humanitarian aid – remains frozen.

“We must do all we can to avert a major humanitarian and socioeconomic collapse in Afghanistan. We need to do it fast,” von der Leyen said, observing that winter was approaching.

“We have been clear about our conditions for any engagement with the Afghan authorities, including on the respect of human rights. So far, the reports speak for themselves. But the Afghan people should not pay the price of the Taliban’s actions,” she said.

EU countries are wary at the prospect of a surge of Afghan asylum-seekers trying to enter the bloc, as happened in 2015 with refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Kabul, said Afghanistan had “become fully dependent” on international aid.

“Since it [aid] has been withheld … it means that people cannot feed their families. It means they don’t have money, it means there are no jobs,” she added.

‘Moral duty’

Von der Leyen has said EU countries – especially those that participated in the NATO mission that hastily decamped in August as the Taliban swept to power – have a “moral duty” to help Afghans.

The $1.15bn aid package announced will boost spending on health in Afghanistan.

In neighbouring countries, it will go to help with migration management and promote cooperation in fighting “terrorism”, crime and migrant smuggling.

Tuesday’s conference came as the Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint EU-US delegation in Qatar, as the new rulers of Afghanistan continue their diplomatic campaign for international support.

International aid has been blocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power following the withdrawal of US and other international troops after 20 years of war.

The country’s assets held abroad have been frozen, while food prices and employment is rising, prompting warnings of a humanitarian disaster once winter arrives.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Omar Abdi told Al Jazeera from New York that even before the recent upheaval and the Taliban’s takeover, his organisation estimated some 10 million children were in need of humanitarian support in Afghanistan.

“At least 1 million of those are at risk of dying from severe malnutrition,” Abdi said. “We expect the situation to get even worse with the winter coming.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies