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UN frustrated over Afghan aid obstacles

Afghan refugees
Thousands of Afghans have fled their homes with the onset of U.S.-led airstrikes  


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The U.N. has expressed concern over the obstacles it is facing in its efforts to bring aid to the growing number of Afghans fleeing their homeland.

Security concerns related to the U.S.-led airstrikes, the rapid onset of winter, and official red tape are severely hampering relief efforts say officials with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"We are in a real race against time -- and right now we are losing," said High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers.

"Unfortunately, we are not receiving the support -- in the region or internationally -- that we need."

The UNHCR says problems with security due to increasingly violent protests against the airstrikes and a lack of cooperation from local officials has put the agency's work far behind schedule.

"The time frame is indeed growing short, winter in some areas is projected to come as early as November 15," Stephanie Bunker a U.N spokeswoman in Islamabad told CNN.

"What's needed most before winter are things to protect people from the cold," she said.

"By that I mean shelter, clothes and blankets some of those items are still going in, food is going in, stocks still exist but a lot more needs to be done."

Security pledge

In the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the UNHCR office was attacked and damaged during protests Thursday, aid workers say they have not yet been able to fully resume their work.

Local authorities have expressed their regret over the damage caused and given assurances of greater security in future.

Another problem the agency says it is facing is the insistence of the Pakistan government that any new refugee camps be built in dry, remote and insecure tribal areas along the Afghan border.

Due to the fragile security situation in those areas U.N. field staff say they have not been able to get sufficient access to monitor population movements or offer assistance to any new arrivals.

In other border areas the United Nations continues to plan for influxes of fleeing Afghans.

"We are looking now at setting up teams in all the surrounding countries, such as Turkmenistan and Iran who will be in a position in safe areas to deliver aid deeper inside the country where people most need it," said Bunker.