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Jan Egeland on Afghanistan Facing Famine, a Massacre in DR Congo & Civilian Casualties in Syria

StoryFebruary 03, 2022
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The United Nations warns Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread” as millions in the country suffer from hunger and are at risk of freezing to death during the winter as U.S. sanctions have devastated the economy. We get an update on what is now the world’s largest humanitarian crisis from Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He also discusses how the NRC has condemned the deadly attack on a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the organization’s humanitarian concerns after the U.S. raid in Syria targeting an ISIS leader that reportedly killed at least 13, including women and children.

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StoryJan 21, 2022Afghanistan Faces “Tsunami of Hunger” as U.S. Sanctions Crash Country’s Economy
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Jan, we spoke to you last about the situation in Afghanistan. And if you could give us an update on what the situation is there now, the U.N. just having made a humanitarian aid appeal that is record-breaking at $4.4 billion just to prevent a famine this year?

JAN EGELAND: Yeah, I mean, in Afghanistan, it’s a race against the clock and against the freezing cold and against famine, really, for millions and millions. There we are held back not primarily anymore by the Taliban authorities. We’re held back by the previous sanctions regimes against the Taliban, which means that we do not still have functioning banks that can transfer our aid money to Afghanistan. We have to truck in lifesaving equipment from Pakistan and Iran, and thereby buying nothing in the country, because we have no money in the country, thereby ourselves contributing to the downward spiral in this economy.

This was warned. I said it when I came back at the end of September last year. The mothers, the widows told us, “We will freeze, and we will starve to death this winter, unless there is an economy coming back, some employment for our husbands and the day laborers, and a scale-up of aid,” which is very difficult in the present context because of the financial squeeze and freeze on Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve called the sanctions “devastating” against Afghanistan. You just met with the Taliban leader in Oslo, and you spoke to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Friday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, about both Afghanistan and Syria?

JAN EGELAND: Yeah, I did. And the week before that, I had a good meeting with the U.S. Treasury, together with nongovernmental organizations’ secretary generals of the United States.

So, what we have is now a lot of declarations from the — coming out of Washington that says that there is nothing precluding us to work in the country under sanctions. There is — it’s not criminal to transfer money there. It’s all allowed.

What I’m lacking is the proactiveness to say to banks, “Don’t be risk-averse. Start to operate again in Afghanistan. Help these humanitarian groups to get going. Help them to save lives. Set up shop there.”

Who will enable there to be a central bank of Afghanistan to operate again, so they can issue banknotes, they can get the economy going back? It’s not helping the Taliban. Who wants to help the Taliban? I mean, they took power with guns in their hands. We need to help the 40 million civilians that were left behind by NATO when NATO rushed for the door in August of last year.

AMY GOODMAN: Jan Egeland, I also want to ask you about another story that the Norwegian Refugee Council is weighing in on: at least 60 people killed during an attack on a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least 15 of the victims were children. Aid groups are calling on the Congolese authorities to ensure the protection of civilians in the area amidst this spate of violent attacks by militant groups. Can you talk about what’s happening there and what you’re calling for?

JAN EGELAND: Well, again, we woke up, now just a couple of days back, to the stories of our — the children that we provide education for being killed by armed men who attack the most vulnerable — women, children, the displaced. It’s a camp in Ituri that has seen, basically, constant violence now for a generation. And it seems that we’re not able to get protection of civilians functioning in the Congo. The protection is really an industry of seminars. It’s not protection on the ground. These people, families, came to this camp because they fled from elsewhere. The one thing they were seeking was some peace and protection, and they didn’t get anything but new violence. So, the perpetrators of this must be found, and there must be an end to the impunity. And, of course, the government of the Congo can do much more. And those who support the government can weigh in and do much more.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jan, in the last minute, if you could talk about the situation in Syria? You just testified at the Security Council, and now the latest news with special forces having killed the head of ISIS, U.S. special forces.

JAN EGELAND: Well, what we comment on is the need for protection of the civilian population. There is a war against legitimate armed targets, which are, for example, ISIS fighters. What I am afraid of is a lot of drones and warfare from high grounds, from the air, that is hurting civilians. We’ll find out more about this one. Was there even children killed? And if such, it is in violation of humanitarian law. It’s as much in violation of humanitarian law if it’s done by the U.S. as if it’s done by the Russian Air Force or the Syrian Air Force. We need to know more about this. Of course, terrorists in ISIS are legitimate targets.

AMY GOODMAN: And the latest news we have is, though the U.S. has denied their special forces attack killed civilians, witnesses are saying at least six children, four women, with body parts scattered near the site of the assault.

Jan Egeland, we want to thank you for being with us, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, joining us from Kyiv in Ukraine.

That does it for our broadcast. Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for a human resources manager. Learn more and apply at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! is produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Mary Conlon. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe.

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Afghanistan Faces “Tsunami of Hunger” as U.S. Sanctions Crash Country’s Economy

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