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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (October 3, 2016) — As world leaders prepare to review their engagement in Afghanistan, at a conference in Brussels this week, Save the Children is calling for urgent investment in the health, education and protection of Afghan children in order to prevent the reversal of once promising development progress.
The organization is particularly concerned by recent reports that European aid to Afghanistan could be made conditional upon the return of Afghan asylum seekers from Europe.
"Aid should be driven solely by the needs of Afghan children and their parents, not made conditional on the return of thousands of Afghan asylum seekers, especially in light of increased levels of violence and conflict across the country," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.
Despite strong improvements in health and education over the last decade, the situation remains dire for children in Afghanistan, where two out of five children under 5 are malnourished and four out of five girls don’t finish primary school.
Making matters worse, fighting has intensified across much of the country over the past two years. Last year saw the highest number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in a 12-month period since UN reporting began in 2009.
"We’re worried that without urgent and sustained support from the international community including strong commitments in health, education and protection, much of the hard-won progress could start to erode," Miles added.
"Displacement is increasing in Afghanistan as violence spreads across the country, meaning more children and families are fleeing their homes in search of safety. They are particularly vulnerable to harm and need the support of the international community," said Ana Locsin, Save the Children Country Director in Afghanistan.
"The unfortunate truth is that Afghanistan is simply not equipped to deal with such a huge numbers of displaced people on its own."
Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Afghans in Pakistan are being forced to return home to escape what the International Organization for Migration called "increased incidents of violence, arbitrary arrest, detention and other forms of harassment" in Pakistan.
"The sudden return of potentially more than 1 million Afghans who originally fled fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s will place a huge burden on the communities they return to. It’s really important that returnee children have the same rights as other children in Afghanistan," Locsin said.
"At the same time, the number of Afghan children heading to Europe has also dramatically increased compared to a few years ago. The fact children are leaving Afghanistan in such large numbers, putting themselves at huge risk and often alone, just shows the level of desperation they feel."
More than half of all unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Europe in 2015 were from Afghanistan.
"There is a multitude of reasons children give for leaving Afghanistan, including a lack of access to education, conflict, violence and poverty. Then they face a whole new set of dangers en route to European countries," Locsin added.
"Ultimately, however, addressing the needs of Afghan children is the most sustainable way to tackle the root cause of this phenomenon and that starts with aid investment. As long as those needs aren’t being met, European countries should not force children to return to a place where they may face threats and stigma for failing their family or betraying their country."
Save the Children’s call comes as world leaders prepare to meet at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan on October 5, which will comprise up to 70 countries and 30 international organizations and agencies. A High Level Dialogue on Migration will also take place, which will likely focus on returns of asylum-seekers.
Save the Children is urging the European Union and other international donors to work constructively during the conference, including making commitments to increase aid to Afghanistan and urgently respond to the growing humanitarian needs of internally displaced Afghans and returnees.
The aid agency is also calling on the Afghan government make the rights and protection of all Afghan children a political priority.
"The international community and the Afghan government simultaneously need to step up to support these incredibly vulnerable children and families," Locsin said.
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