EU unveils $1.6b aid package for Afghan humanitarian crisis

ROME • Group of 20 (G-20) leaders gathered yesterday for a virtual summit focused on addressing the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, with the European Union kicking off proceedings by announcing a €1 billion (S$1.6 billion) aid package.

Shortly before the G-20 meeting began, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced an aid package to help "avert a major humanitarian and socioeconomic collapse" in Afghanistan.

The money adds €250 million to a €300 million sum previously announced by the EU for urgent humanitarian needs, with the remainder going to Afghanistan's neighbouring countries taking in Afghans fleeing the Taliban, a statement said.

It stressed 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 remains frozen.

"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," Dr von der Leyen said.

"But the Afghan people should not pay the price of the Taliban's actions."

United States President Joe Biden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were among those who joined the Italy-hosted G-20 talks, although Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin sent representatives.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had been pushing for yesterday's meeting since the August takeover by the Taliban, insisting debate over solutions must go beyond the usual club of Western allies.

Mr Biden discussed the situation in Afghanistan with G-20 leaders, including efforts to counter threats from extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - Khorasan, the White House said.

The leaders also reaffirmed the commitment to provide humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people.

Germany is not yet prepared to recognise the Taliban as Afghanistan's government, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, but she reaffirmed Berlin's promise of €600 million in aid.

The G-20 conference came as the Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint EU-US delegation in Qatar.

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

On Monday, Afghanistan's Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi appealed to the world for good relations, but avoided making firm commitments on the issue of girls' education.

"The international community need to start cooperating with us," he said at an event organised by the Centre for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha.

"With this, we will be able to stop insecurity and at the same time with this, we will be able to engage positively with the world."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2021, with the headline 'EU unveils $1.6b aid package for Afghan humanitarian crisis'. Subscribe