Afghan refugees top aid agenda
BERLIN, Germany -- An emergency meeting of donor countries and aid agencies is to discuss how best to tackle the worsening Afghan refugee crisis.
Up to 7.5 million Afghans are expected to need help as Afghans stream for the borders in fear of anticipated U.S. military attacks.
Washington is threatening action against Afghanistan's Taliban rulers unless it hands over Osama bin Laden -- the man accused of masterminding the suicide attacks on U.S. targets.
The humanitarian crisis adds to the woes of those who have already been caught in 20 years of conflict and recent drought.
The UNHCR says it expects more than 1.5 million Afghans to leave and join the 3.5 million already in camps in Iran and Pakistan, the biggest refugee group in the world.
On top of that there will be others who remain in Afghanistan but will need humanitarian help.
The Afghanistan Support Group, which is made up of donor nations and the International Red Cross as well as the European Union and UNHCR, will meet in Berlin on Thursday, under the chairmanship of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
It will discuss the mounting humanitarian and refugee crisis in Afghanistan, hoping to reach a common assessment of the situation and co-ordinate a possible aid programme for the region.
Afghanistan has become a target of the U.S. "war against terror" because it has so far refused to hand over bin Laden, who the Taliban say is a guest in their country.
Washington has accused bin Laden of masterminding the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon and caused another plane to crash during a fourth suicide mission which failed to reach its target.
UNHCR spokesman Robert Colville told CNN: "The potential is there for an absolutely massive crisis."
The UNHCR launched a £252 million emergency appeal on Wednesday which will go towards covering the cost of constructing and maintaining refugee camps, the delivery of 80,000 tents, hundreds of thousands of health and hygiene kits and huge amounts of other relief items.
The UNHCR operation for Afghanistan is the biggest since the 1999 refugee crisis in Kosovo when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were driven from their homes by Serb forces.
Germany has said it has increased its aid to the region and is making an immediate grant of six million marks ($2.8 million) for the UNHCR and the Red Cross.
Iran and Pakistan have attempted to close their borders to prevent more refugees crossing their borders.
Donor nations attending the meeting include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and the EU Commission.
Other aid bodies taking part in the talks include the children's agency UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.
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