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Flood of Afghan refugees feared

Refugee camp
Before the attacks in the U.S., there were an estimated 2 million refugees in Pakistan  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Humanitarian workers are preparing to deal with a worst case scenario of up to one million refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

With supplies already running low the U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, estimate 1.3 million refugees might attempt to escape after any U.S. military strike.

Already some two million Afghan refugees are in Pakistan, having left a country wracked by 20 years of war, a devastated economy, and three years of drought.

"We may see as many as 900,000 coming across this border into Pakistan," said Nigel Fisher, special regional representative for UNICEF. "We're also estimating perhaps 300,000 into Iran, 150,000 to 100,000 in Turkmenistan."

Thousands more refugees have already left Afghanistan amid fears of possible U.S. military strikes unless the ruling Taliban hand over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Humanitarian agencies prepare for more Afghan refugees, CNN's Mike Chinoy reports (September 22)

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Most humanitarian workers left Afghanistan for security reasons after the September 11 hijack attacks on the United States.

Afghanistan's UNICEF representative Eric Larouche told CNN his organisation still has about 70 national staff in Afghanistan, but they have no means of communication because the Taliban sealed all lines.

"If any national staff were caught transmitting data ... with the equipment that was sealed ... they would immediately be executed," Larouche said. "This is what they were told (by Taliban officials)."

The setback has not stopped aid organisations from operating in the area.

UNICEF and other organisations are setting up "closed border operations" -- camps and supply stations along the Afghan-Pakistani border -- with the permission of the Pakistani government.

Pakistan has agreed to let the aid organisations set up small campsites, but the organisations are not allowed to let the larger Afghan refugee camps grow any further.

The World Food Programme is still operating in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif, the relief agency's Web site said in a statement released Friday.

It noted that a skeleton staff was doing its best to operate the WFP's bakeries in Kabul, which serves more than 300,000 people. But the statement added that its stocks will only last for three weeks and distribution is dependent on the availability of trucks and fuel.

"Working conditions for our staff inside Afghanistan are becoming increasingly difficult with a lack of local transport to move food, especially in Kabul and Kandahar," the Web site stated.

Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan on the east and south, Iran on the west, China on the northeast, and Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the north.

Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, called for the creation of a "humanitarian alliance" that would work side-by-side with a political and military campaign against terrorism.

"It would be grave mistake, I think, to talk only in terms of attacks on terrorists and not to think about consequences for ordinary people," Lubbers said.

"I'm fighting hard not to see this only as a political-military attack against terrorists, but also as an effort for humanitarian assistance by giving ... generous support toward the humanitarian alliance."

• Afghan refugee crisis spreads
September 20, 2001
• U.N. bolsters Afghan refugee aid
September 20, 2001
• Afghan refugee crisis worsens
September 17, 2001

• U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
• World Food Programme

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