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U.N.: Estimated 135,000 new refugees in Pakistan

GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that it believes 135,000 new Afghan refugees have entered Pakistan since September 11.

At least 75,000 are thought to have entered the North West Frontier province and 60,000 have trekked into Baluchistan province, according to the Pakistani office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is officially closed, but refugees are finding ways to bypass or be smuggled through checkpoints. The so-called "invisible" refugees are becoming more visible every day, aid workers say.

With the exception of the 2,400 refugees in the Killi Faizo staging camp in Baluchistan, the rest are in private housing, either in some of the 203 older refugee camps in Pakistan or in Peshawar and Quetta.

Other refugees are thought to have traveled to cities like Karachi and Islamabad, which have significant populations of refugees who arrived previously.

UNHCR hopes to improve education, health, water supplies, sanitation facilities and services in the old refugee camps, as well as open new sites along the Pakistan side of the border.

Because of 22 years of war compounded by drought, famine and civil strife, Afghans are the world's largest single refugee group. The UNHCR estimates there are nearly 1 million uprooted people within the country, 2 million refugees in Pakistan and 1.5 million in Iran.

Refugees mixed with soldiers

The agency also reported that there are now up to 1,500 Afghans living in the open near the Makaki refugee camp run by the Iranian Red Crescent Society in the Nimroz province of western Afghanistan.

The UNHCR said that it received more eyewitness accounts of a Taliban military presence inside the Makaki refugee camp. The accounts, which the agency said include photographic evidence, described armed Taliban soldiers in the camp along with equipment like heavy machine guns and multiple rocket launchers.

The presence of soldiers at this camp and other camps inside Afghanistan makes it extremely difficult to deliver international assistance to refugees without unintentionally feeding the war effort, according to the refugee agency.

Besides the Makaki camp, there are five other refugee camps in Afghanistan. One is in an controlled by the Northern Alliance, there are two sites on the Pyanji River on the Tajikistan border and the Spin Boldak camp near the Pakistani border.

UNHCR has urged both Pakistan and Iran to open their borders to refugees so that humanitarian assistance can be delivered outside presence of any warring parties.

Sony donates $750,000 to refugee aid

UNHCR also said that Sony Corp. is donating $750,000 to support global operations for U.N. refugee programs. Sony informed the agency last week of the pledge, according to the UNHCR.

The UNHCR said that Sony has taken the unusual move of donating unearmarked funds. Because of this, the refugee agency is at liberty to use the money for other refugees elsewhere in the world who tend to be overlooked during emergencies.

"During the 1990s, Afghan refugees were one of the groups most affected by this syndrome -- as the focus moved from Iraq to Somalia, then to the Balkans and Rwanda -- with negative ramifications that are all too apparent," according to an UNHCR statement released Tuesday.

The UNHCR also said that the Iranian and Pakistan governments have repeatedly cited the poor international support for the more than 4 million Afghan refugees that remained in those countries after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces in 1989 as one of the main reasons for refusing to open their borders for refugees fleeing the current crisis.

The refugee agency has received confirmed pledges of $56.1 million for its Afghanistan emergency operations from 20 governments, the European Commission and private donors.


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