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U.N.: Afghan refugees still streaming into Pakistan

GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday thousands of Afghan refugees continue to cross into Pakistan through unofficial entry points.

At a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees briefing in Geneva, a spokesman said that more than 5,000 people crossed into Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province last weekend.

In the southern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, an average of 200 people a day have entered the Killi Faizo staging camp at the Chaman border crossing, bringing the population at the site to more than 1,350. An additional 500 people were waiting to get into the camp Tuesday.

Most of those arriving in Chaman have come from Kandahar, which has been hit by a series of heavy raids since the U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan began in October.

Afghanistan refugee map 

The UNHCR estimates that more than 80,000 Afghans have crossed into Pakistan since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, but only a small fraction of these are being accommodated at a staging camp in the Quetta area.

"Most Afghans have blended into existing refugee settlements or have found accommodation with the local population," the UNHCR statement said. "Many of them are believed to be living in extremely difficult conditions without access to international aid."

The UNHCR said about 7,800 persons are in the Makaki camp in Taliban-controlled territory about 1.24 miles (2 kilometers) inside Afghanistan near the Iranian border. The Iranian Red Crescent Society operates the camp. Iranian officials said they stopped registering new arrivals because the facility was designed to hold only 1,000 tents and already was close to that limit.

The Iranian group also operates another camp inside Afghanistan that currently holds 568 persons. But the UNHCR said it appeared that the camp, which is in Northern Alliance-controlled territory, would soon receive persons turned away at the Makaki camp.

UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Pakistan's Taliban representative.

Lubbers has urged Afghanistan's neighbors repeatedly to open their borders to Afghan refugees, including those fleeing forced conscription.

Afghans are one of the world's largest refugee groups, having fled 22 years of conflict and war as well as famine, drought and a repressive government. The United Nations said the problems in Afghanistan produced the highest-ever refugee population, which totaled 6.2 million at one time.

Before the current crisis, the UNHCR estimated there were 2.6 million Afghan refugees, making Afghans the largest single refugee group in the world for the 19th year in a row.


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