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Iran fears influx of Afghan refugees

An Afghan boy flashes the victory sign as he buys bread at a refugee camp in northeastern Iran, bordering Afghanistan.
An Afghan boy flashes the victory sign as he buys bread at a refugee camp in northeastern Iran, bordering Afghanistan.  

MASHHAD, Iran (CNN) -- Aid agencies were meeting Monday in northeast Iran, discussing how to deal with a potentially huge influx of refugees from neighboring Afghanistan.

As airstrikes against Taliban targets continued for a second day, Iran closed its borders to refugees about three weeks ago, saying the country is already home to nearly 2.3 million Afghans who have fled their homes and that it cannot accept anymore. There is no sign of Iran opening the border to refugees, despite urgent calls from the United Nations.

Iran has agreed to help aid agencies set up seven camps along its 900-kilometer (600-mile) border, just inside Afghanistan's territory. However, that proposal was on shaky ground since Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have yet to agree to the idea of camps inside their borders.

Despite Iran's opposition to the U.S.-led airstrikes in neighboring Afghanistan, a high-ranking U.S. official told CNN's Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno that "Iran is being very, very cooperative" in allowing international relief officials to transport U.S. food through their territory.

None of the aid agencies in Iran could confirm that report.

CNN's Mike Chinoy says that aid from UNICEF is on it's way via 1,000 horses and donkeys through a dangerous mountain pass (October 7)

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Officials with the Iranian Red Crescent said there were reports that many people from the western Afghan city of Herat were leaving the city to move to the Iranian border, as well as the suburbs and villages of Herat. The airport in Herat was among those hit Sunday night during the U.S.-led attacks on military targets in Afghanistan.

But there were no reports from the main crossing points of any refugees at the border. Before the attacks, the United Nations feared as many as 400,000 Afghan refugees might rush to the Iranian border to take refuge.

Iran remains opposed to the U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan, saying they were carried out "without regard to world public opinion and particularly the Islamic countries."

"These attacks will result in loss of life among civilians, and, therefore, they are not acceptable," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.

Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamene'i also condemned the attacks, saying, "The innocent people of Afghanistan are being targeted. The U.S. is lying about its intentions. We condemn the U.S. attacks against the people of Afghanistan."

U.S. officials have said repeatedly they are only targeting military targets, and not the Afghan civilians.

-- CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji contributed to this report


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