Bush provides $50 million in aid to Pakistan
U.S. also giving $25 million to aid Afghan refugees
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush is providing $50 million in new assistance to Pakistan to help the country's ailing economy and is making $25 million available to help meet the needs of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing Afghanistan amid fears of a U.S.-led attack on the country.
In a memorandum to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush said it is "important to the security interests of the United States" to make up to $50 million available to Pakistan.
The money comes from an "economic support fund" and is designed "to help out a country that has taken a stand against terrorism," said an administration official who did not want to be identified.
In a separate memorandum to Powell, Bush said it is in the "national interest" to free up money from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to "meet unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of a new exodus of refugees from Afghanistan."
The money, according to the president, can be used to provide contributions to international governmental and non-governmental organizations or to pay for administrative expenses for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
The United Nations believes between 10,000 and 20,000 refugees -- mostly women and children -- have arrived in Pakistan's Quetta region over the past week.
A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Afghans are making their way into Pakistan through mountainous areas along the border between the two nations.
The influx continued despite the official closure of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Some of the refugees who arrived in the Quetta region over the past few days told the refugee agency they had begun their trek before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, driven out by drought and poverty. Others say they left in the wake of the attacks.
"Most people are staying with relatives and friends or trying to blend into existing Afghan refugee settlements in an effort not to attract attention.
One local man in Quetta said he was hosting 25 Afghan refugees while another said he "accommodated 16," according to a UNHCR press release.
The refugees say most men are staying behind in Afghanistan to keep an eye on their property.
Many also accompany their families across the border and then go back, the UNHCR said.
Many of those who have fled to the Quetta region are ethnic Pashtuns, but there are also ethnic minorities among those streaming to the border.
Refugees who arrived from Kandahar said panic gripped the city on September 12 with thousands hastily fleeing; food prices, the refugees reported, nearly doubled in the wake of the attack.
Refugees have reported that people headed from cities to the countryside have had to put up with banditry and extortion.
Also, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday it will start airlifting supplies to Quetta.
The first plane -- an Ilyushin 76 with 44 tons of plastic sheets, is set to leave Copenhagen, Denmark, on Friday night and is to arrive in Quetta about noon Saturday.
The plane is to shuttle supplies between Quetta and Copenhagen. UNHCR is searching for 3,000 square meters of warehouse space.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched an emergency appeal for $584 million aid to help tackle the Afghan refugee and drought crisis.
The new six-month U.N. plan is aimed at helping Afghans still in the country -- where up to 7.5 million people face starvation -- and those fleeing Afghanistan amid fears of U.S.-led military strikes on the ruling Taliban.
Earlier on Thursday, an emergency meeting of donor countries and aid agencies discussed how best to tackle the worsening refugee crisis.
International aid workers have left Afghanistan, while the Taliban has virtually shut down the aid distribution network in the country, closing the U.N. communications network and seizing 1,400 tons of emergency food stored in a U.N. warehouse.
-- CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.
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