U.N shifts refugees to relieve border camp
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The U.N. refugee agency has begun shifting Afghan refugees from a temporary camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border to a permanent one further inland, after days of negotiations with authorities.
As the move came, the Pakistani authorities impressed upon U.N. agencies the need to provide relief to refugees inside Afghanistan before they reached the border.
The government says it will now begin searching for those that have crossed over illegally and are now sheltering in cities and villages, with a view to making them stay in proper refugee camps.
In total eleven new camps are earmarked for use and are favored by the authorities for their proximity to the border, allowing the speedy return of refugees if and when Afghanistan stabilizes.
Roghani, with a capacity of up to 40,000, is the first camp to be opened in Pakistan since a new wave of Afghans began fleeing in the wake of the attacks in the U.S.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees states that a total of 244 people (48 families) left the Killi Faizo staging site near the Chaman crossing destined for the more permanent spot at Roghani.
Daily convoys are now scheduled in order to relieve Killi Faizo, which is supposed to be only a staging camp; it reached its 3,400-person capacity a week ago.
Peter Kessler a U.N. spokesman says the temporary border camp while suitable as a transit site was too " insecure perched right on the frontier, to allow [the U.N] to safely care for thousands of Afghans."
Kessler told Reuters news agency that Taliban agitators had been entering the camp at night, telling Afghans that if they were good Muslims, they would go back to Taliban-run camps across the border.
Although the border with Afghanistan is officially closed, authorities continue to allow vulnerable Afghans over the border, including women, children, elderly and the sick, many of whom end up in Killi Farzo or waiting in the icy desert to get into the camp.
The UNHCR says it believes at least 135,000 refugees have fled the fighting at home for shelter in Pakistan.
Relief on Afghan soil
Home Secretary of Baluchistan Province, Pakistan, Azmat Hanif Orukzai, impressed upon the U.N. that it should explore the possibility of providing relief and assistance to the refugees in Afghanistan so that they do not cross over "because of the prevailing conditions there."
This is a question many aid agencies are considering, since the borders are closed and there are fewer refugees to care for in Pakistan than the millions expected.
"The outflow isn't happening," Chris Lom, spokesman in Pakistan for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), told Reuters.
The UNHCR told Reuters that within Afghanistan armed Taliban guards roamed the camps at will, it also says it has evidence that anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers are positioned inside camps, allowing the ruling militia to use civilians as human shields.
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