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leaving afghanistan

Top aid official says thousands of Afghan refugees are entering Iran every day

Thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban are crossing the border into Iran on a daily basis, and Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, is calling on the international community to help with food and shelter.

Egeland is now in Tehran, after visiting Iran's Kerman province near the border with Afghanistan. During an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Egeland said that many of the refugees "called their relatives telling them they are on their way to Iran and many want to go on to Europe, so Europe should be less occupied with a few thousand [refugees] sitting on the Polish-Belorussian border. More people came today to Iran than are now on that border."

The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, 300,000 people have left the country for Iran. "There is no economy, there is very little assistance, and there is too little shelter and food for millions and millions in need," Egeland said. Once it's winter and the conditions are "horrific," Egeland believes hundreds of thousands of additional refugees will leave Afghanistan for Iran, which share three formal border crossings.

Refugees from Afghanistan have been coming to Iran since 1979, when Soviet troops occupied the country. It's estimated that there are 800,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran, and 3 million more who are undocumented. Iran has been supporting the new arrivals, Egeland told AP, but more aid needs to be sent to help during the cold months. "How can you expect Iran to shoulder this responsibility on their own?" Egeland said. "What Europe should do is invest in hope, possibility, opportunity inside Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries if they want to avoid people wandering towards Europe."