A call for action from the Canadian government to prevent famine in Afghanistan

Canadian law designates the Taliban as a terrorist organization and criminalizes anyone who provides them with funds – a challenge for aid organizations

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OTTAWA – As famine threatens in Afghanistan, a coalition of humanitarian organizations wants the Canadian government to lift bans on them doing business in the country, to help millions of people avoid famine.

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After nearly two decades of war, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last August, creating a refugee crisis. The Taliban takeover coincided with extreme drought and other crises that risk causing famine in the coming year if more humanitarian aid is not forthcoming.

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Canadian law designates the Taliban as a terrorist organization and criminalizes anyone who provides funds to them, posing a challenge for aid organizations. Although not recognized internationally, the Taliban are the de facto government of the country, collecting taxes on fuel and salaries.

Since returning to power last year, the Taliban have imposed restrictions on women and prevented girls from returning to classrooms.

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Reyhana Patel, director of communications at Islamic Relief Canada, said charities were not disbursing Taliban money directly, but needed to be able to buy basic goods and services in the country.

“When I say pay taxes it doesn’t mean we pay the government, it’s just unfortunately in every country there is a tax attached to everything,” she said.

Islamic Relief, the Canadian Red Cross, CARE Canada, World Vision and many other charities are part of the coalition calling on the government to make an exemption from current laws for humanitarian rules. They ask Canadians to write letters to the Canadian government to implement the exemption.

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Patel said other countries like the US, UK and many European countries have granted exemptions to humanitarian rules. She said they needed the Canadian government to do the same and have been asking for a change for a year, but the government has only delayed.

“We heard that ‘we’re thinking about it, we’re going to get there’, but you know, it’s been a year and nothing has happened,” she said. “The situation is really dire in Afghanistan. You are on the brink of starvation so we want to be able to help as many people as possible. »

Asuntha Charles, Country Director of World Vision Afghanistan, said the situation on the ground was truly heartbreaking.

“About 24.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 13 million of whom are children. Millions of children are malnourished due to lack of food and lack of nutrition services in the country,” she said.

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She said the problems are especially serious for infants.

“We had about 124,000 premature babies born in the last year alone, after August, and 13,700 premature babies died.”

Charles said the restrictions in place now make it nearly impossible to use banks for payments.

“We have problems getting aid into the country because the banks are not operational,” she said.

She said aid agencies rely on hawala networks, where money is transferred through more informal channels, but this can significantly increase the cost of their operations.

“Our programs are getting really expensive due to the lack of banks operating in Afghanistan.”

Even before they swept the country with the departure of NATO troops last year, the Taliban had long controlled parts of Afghanistan. Charles said aid groups have had to work with the group before and have found ways to ensure that when they provide aid, they are helping people and not the Taliban.

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“We have developed our own mechanisms, and this aid is not diverted and it goes into the hands of the vulnerable population.”

Haley Hodgson, spokesman for International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan, said the government was working to address the issue and offer humanitarian aid.

“We continue to respond to the immediate needs of the Afghan people. In 2022, Canada has allocated $143 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and neighboring countries,” she said.

“Minister Sajjan is working with Public Safety and Justice to review the changes needed to support the Afghan people. He continues to work with international partners to hold the Taliban to account for their horrific treatment and discrimination against women and girls.

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