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Afghans Fleeing Besieged Kunduz Suffer Dire Conditions

An Afghan family waits for help from the government and aid organizations in Takhar Province on October 11 after fleeing their homes in neighboring Kunduz.

Host families already living in poverty are struggling to provide food and shelter for the thousands of Kunduz residents who have fled the city in northern Afghanistan since it fell to the Taliban a week ago, aid agencies have reported.

Taliban fighters entered the city unexpectedly at the start of last week, and Afghan forces have scrambled to try and drive the insurgents out.

Geeta Bashardost, a women's rights activist from Kunduz who fled to the capital, Kabul, said most people had no chance to take any belongings with them.

"I fled Kunduz on the first day of fighting, but all my family is back in the city under the rockets and mortar shells of Taliban and government forces," she said.

Up to 10,000 refugees had arrived in Kabul and northern towns such as Taloqan and Mazar-i-Sharif by October 6, the United Nations estimated.

Afghanistan already has more than 1.2 million internal refugees. Some 260,000 have been forced to flee their homes this year as the fighting has continued across the country.

"The primary need (of the displaced) is food and clothes, as most of their host families are not in a good economic condition," said Abdul Rahim Qayoumi, head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society in Baghlan Province. He added that the logistics weren’t in place yet for his organization to begin offering assistance.

In Baghlan's Pul-e Khumri city, Noorullah Shokori said he had escaped Kunduz with his wife and five children. "The people live a very miserable life here. Up to five families live in one rented house of two rooms," said Shokori, who is a florist. "If the government does not act swiftly to clear up Kunduz from the Taliban and end the fighting, winter and cold weather will kill a lot more people than the Taliban."

In Takhar Province, Deputy Police Chief Mustafa Qudos said the governor had asked residents and businesses to help the displaced people.

"Ordinary farmers baked bread at home and distributed it to the Kunduz IDPs (internally displaced people) in Takhar. Some people took them into their homes, and university students raised funds to buy tents and food," he said.

With reporting by Zabihullah Noori for Thomson Reuters Foundation