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Mike Chinoy: Refugee situation in Pakistan grim

CNN Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy  

(CNN) -- The first U.N. emergency airlift of supplies for Afghan refugees in Pakistan has arrived as thousands continue fleeing the country, fearing a U.S. strike. The sudden increase in refugees has created a potential crisis along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. CNN anchor Bill Hemmer spoke Sunday with CNN Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy, who is in Peshawar, Pakistan.

BILL HEMMER: Mike, hello.

MIKE CHINOY: Hello, Bill. Well, I've spent most of the day in a couple of Afghan refugee camps just on this side of the border with Afghanistan. And I have to say conditions there are extremely grim, particularly in the camp where most of the latest arrivals have staggered into.

I spoke with one woman who came with her three children from Kabul [Afghanistan] on Friday. She talked about a four-day journey, a nightmarish journey with almost no food, almost no water, no shelter. She had to bribe her way to get past the closed border checkpoint here. And when she got to this camp, all she has is a flimsy tent and the barest of emergency supplies.

Aid workers in Pakistan are struggling to meet the needs of refugees fleeing Afghanistan. CNN's Mike Chinoy reports (October 1)

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This camp is one where disease is ripe, where heat stroke, skin diseases, respiratory ailments, typhoid, all rampant. Very little in the way of running water and sanitation, and yet she was absolutely relieved to be there because she -- like almost all of the other refugees that I spoke with -- said that above and beyond everything else, the great concern in Afghanistan now is the possibility of an American military strike and further conflict. And at least here in Pakistan, they feel that they're safe from that.

But all in all, a very grim situation. Aid agencies [are] working desperately to try and move new supplies in, scout out the sites for new camps to be built, possibly up to a 100 in this one province of Pakistan alone -- should the estimated flow of what the [the U.N.] says could be up to 1.5 million people. ...

HEMMER: Mike, clearly, it's one thing to get the aid there in the area where you are. It's another thing to get it in the hands of the people who need it the most. What's being done right now to facilitate that delivery?

CHINOY: Well, here in Pakistan, you're in a country that already [plays host to more than] 2 million Afghan refugees. So there is an infrastructure of long-standing operation at work. And aid agencies are reasonably confident that they'll be able to deal with this issue, at least to a minimal degree.

The graver humanitarian crisis right now is on the other side of the border inside Afghanistan, where it's estimated that between 4 million and 5 million people have already been badly affected by drought and food shortages that predate the event of September 11. We now have large numbers of people on the move, leaving the cities out of fear of what may happen for a U.S. attack. ...

I was told by some aid workers that in one major Afghan city that crowds ransacked and looted the U.N. coordinating committee's office desperately looking for food. They've gone into the warehouses ... in that same city trying to find something to eat. There's a sense of [that] what ... little order is left in parts of Afghanistan [is] breaking down.

And the aid agencies are very frustrated, although we are finally getting the first shipment of food into Kabul over the weekend. It's not clear that it's going to reach those most desperately in need. The World Food Program, which has sent the shipment, is concerned about the Taliban using that food aid as a kind of political weapon to consolidate its own position. So lots of doubts [exist] still about whether the people who really need the aid the most are going to be anywhere close to getting it.

HEMMER: And Mike, quickly, the people you talked to in the refugee camps: Did you get a sense of how far they had to travel to get out of Afghanistan?

CHINOY: People are desperate to leave. That's all there is to it. There's just tremendous fear of what may happen. And when you ask people, "What will it take for you to go back? Does it mean this group in charge, or that group in charge, or the king, the Taliban?" the unanimous refrain from all of these people is, "We don't really care who's in charge. We just want peace. We want some security in our lives. And until that happens, we don't want to go back."

And that means for Pakistan, already a very poor country, already housing over 2 million Afghan refugees, a big, big problem for possibly a long time to come.


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