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U.N. bolsters Afghan refugee aid



GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- Boosted by a pledge from the U.S. government to provide more assistance, the U.N. refugee agency Wednesday was preparing emergency plans to aid a worsening Afghan refugee crisis.

Following U.S. demands, Pakistan closed its borders with Afghanistan on Monday leaving tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing the country in fear of U.S. attacks behind closed gates.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says emergency meetings are underway in Pakistan to discuss how to deal with the situation.

"Thousands of people in Afghanistan are already on the move, joining millions others who were displaced inside and outside the country even before the latest crisis," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said Tuesday.

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"We must do everything we can to avoid further displacement of innocent civilians."

Although the main border gates between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been closed, the 2,240 km (1,400-mile) long border is porous and has been used as smuggling route for centuries.

On Wednesday, despite the border closure, an estimated 400 Afghan refugees crossed the border near the Pakistan city of Quetta.

The UNHCR was sending 2,000 tents to the city, adding to the more than 9,300 tents currently in Pakistan -- enough for 50,000 people, the UNHCR says.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said Tuesday residents were continuing to flee Afghanistan's cities and move to rural areas although the number has been decreasing.

Food shortage fears

However, the swelling of refugees near the Pakistan borders is raising concerns of food shortages.

U.N. officials said there is enough food in the areas concerned for two weeks but with more refugees arriving daily, the supply may dwindle rapidly.

There were also reports of food shortages being felt in Kabul as residents purchase remaining stocks.

On Monday, the UNHCR warned that the many Afghans attempting to flee the country in fear of possible U.S. attacks was exacerbating an already "catastrophic" humanitarian crisis.

'Humanitarian precipice

UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told CNN the focus on the refugee crisis in Afghanistan is the agency's top priority, saying the country was on a "humanitarian precipice".

Many people inside Afghanistan, Kessler said, "are very much living on a hand to mouth basis."

The UNHCR, which has offices in countries surrounding Afghanistan, has a large operation in Pakistan.

The agency is in touch with the Taliban's representatives in Islamabad, Pakistan, and with neighboring countries about the growing crisis.

Most aid workers, reporters and diplomats have already left Afghanistan for security reasons. The World Food Program has ceased delivery of foodstuffs.

Because of drought over the last few years and warfare for more than two decades, the Afghan refugee problem was huge even before the threat of U.S. attacks.

Before last Tuesday, there had been 2 million Afghan refugees in Iran and another 2 million in Pakistan.

There are though to be also another 1 million displaced persons in the country.






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