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Pakistan not prepared for flood of Afghan refugees

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


CHAMAN, Pakistan (CNN) -- Thousands of Afghans, fleeing airstrikes and a fast-approaching winter, huddled behind Afghanistan's border with Pakistan at Chaman on Saturday, barred by Pakistani border officials from crossing out of their bomb-blasted country.

Reports elsewhere in Afghanistan indicate hundreds of thousands are on the move, running for safety, security and food.

Pakistani officials at the Chaman crossing said the border was closed, although CNN's Amanda Kibel said she saw many women and children from Kandahar allowed to cross earlier in the day. Authorities in Islamabad said only those with proper documentation were allowed to enter Pakistan.

Refugee camps under construction in western Pakistan aren't ready, according to Pakistani officials, and lack enough water and food to support a large influx of people.

International aid agencies worry that with the camps unprepared, the refugees will disappear into cities and villages where the agencies won't be able to find them with needed help.

At least 10,000 people have already fled Afghanistan since the airstrikes began on October 7, including 3,500 on Friday alone. The influx is taxing an unprepared Pakistan, which was already home to 1.2 million Afghan refugees living in camps with a further 800,000 or so in Pakistani cities, according to U.N. statistics.

But the situation inside Afghanistan causing the refugees to flee is far from better.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the newly appointed chief U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, noted that Afghanistan's problems did not begin with the bombs on October 7 -- and providing aid to Afghanistan's people was crucial.

"We think that there are millions of people at risk, not because of the bombing campaign...but because of the drought, because of the civil war that has been going on for a long time," Brahimi said at the National Press Club in Washington. "This humanitarian activity must continue."

"Many people deeper inside of Afghanistan simply cannot get out," said Antonio Donini, the deputy U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan. "They are trapped where they are. They are the most vulnerable and face the greatest risks under the present circumstances. They suffer from hunger, but they also suffer from fear and from exposure, and in some areas they face a breakdown of law and order."

Donini said that the United Nation's ability to function inside the country "is rapidly deteriorating" amid a diminished ability to communicate with workers and reports of U.N. offices looted, staff members beaten and aid supplies stolen or destroyed.

"That's not to say it is impossible to work in Afghanistan," Donini said at an Islamabad, Pakistan, news conference. "The problem is one of delivering enough aid into the hands of those who need it most."

The United Nations has told its staff inside to "put themselves first" and "not put themselves at risk."

U.N. officials said those Afghans who successfully entered Pakistan have painted a bleak picture of their homeland. Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, is empty, they say, and no fuel is available. Some say family members have been killed in daily U.S.-led bombing attacks.

Taliban fighters, they say, have looted vacated residences and aid agency offices and internal instability is prevailing.

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 says the problems in Afghanistan produced the highest-ever refugee population, which totaled 6.2 million at one time.

Before the current crisis, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees 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.

-- CNN Correspondent Chris Burns contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 



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