Afghanistan Humanitarian Update No. 28
At a Glance:
- High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers meets Presidents of Pakistan, Iran
- Deterioration in health situation on Pakistan/Afghan border
- Pakistan staging camp full, negotiations under way about opening new site
- Taliban seize UNHCR office in Spin Boldak
- Camp on Afghan side of Iranian border now full
- Swiss airlift arrives in Turkmenistan
- Donations from Italy, Japan
High Commissioner meets Presidents of Iran, Pakistan
On Wednesday High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers reiterated a call for open borders in talks with Iran's President Khatami and senior government officials. Iran's border with Afghanistan remains officially closed like the borders with Pakistan and central Asian nations. In talks with President Khatami, the High Commissioner acknowledged Iran's security concerns relating to a possible influx of Afghan refugees but asked Iran for a greater flexibility on the border issue. President Khatami reiterated Iran's insistence that Afghans be helped in camps on the Afghan side of the border. Mr Lubbers also met with donor community representatives and official from the Iranian Red Crescent Society.
Mr. Lubbers arrived in Teheran from Islamabad where he discussed the Afghan border issue with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. While Pakistan maintained its position that it would not open its border to all Afghans trying to flee the country, there was agreement that certain categories of vulnerable people would continue to be accepted in Pakistan. Further discussions will take place as to who would be included in the vulnerable category. There was also agreement that the so-called "invisible refugees" - the tens of thousands of people who have already entered Pakistan in recent weeks by informal ways and means - should be assisted if possible, preferably in camps. Mr. Lubbers stressed the importance of issuing a guarantee that such people would not be deported. Otherwise it would be impossible to persuade them to move to the camps where they can be properly assisted. Also on Tuesday, Mr. Lubbers met with the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, urging the Taliban government to ensure the safety of local UN staff, equipment and supplies remaining in Afghanistan.
Health Situation Deteriorates on Baluchistan Border
Over the past three days, medical workers at the Killi Faizo staging camp close to the Afghan border in southern Pakistan have seen an increasing number of cases of severely sick or malnourished people - including a one-year old baby and a 12-year-old boy, both of whom were described as being in very bad shape. One case is suspected of having polio. Many of the worst cases had reportedly been forced to stay in the Taliban's Spin Boldak camp for several days before being allowed across into Pakistan.
Four of the most severe cases - all female - were referred to Quetta hospital. These included two pregnant women who were bleeding, another woman with suspected tuberculosis and one with a fractured arm, which she said was the result of aerial bombardment. Various other refugees arriving over the past couple of days have said they have fled because of bombing, and one 60-year-old man reported that he had lost his entire family when his house was destroyed.
Afghan refugees arriving in Killi Faizo, say the health situation in the makeshift Taliban-controlled camp at Spin Boldak inside Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly. UNHCR medical workers say individuals who passed through the Spin Boldak camp on their way to Pakistan report cases of severe malnutrition as well as dysentery among the children, and it is feared the cases being seen in Killi Faizo may reflect a much wider problem on the other side of the border. The camp's population is estimated at around 3,000 (700 families). At least 100 families at the Spin Boldak site are reported to be sleeping in the open without any aid at all.
Those interviewed by UNHCR after crossing the border into Pakistan allege that the Taliban are actively preventing people from leaving Afghanistan, including those in need of urgent medical attention. UNHCR has repeatedly expressed concern about the Spin Boldak camp, where those trying to flee are deprived of sufficient aid, vulnerable to forcible recruitment by the Taliban, and are positioned too close to military positions for comfort.
MSF staff treated a total of 113 patients in Killi Faizo on Wednesday, in addition to vaccinating and giving Vitamin A to around 150 children.
Authorities suspend registration at staging camp
On Tuesday, a further 116 families (540 individuals) were registered in the Killi Faizo staging camp, near the Chaman border crossing in Baluchistan. The total number accepted into this site since it opened just over a week ago is 1,897 individuals (384 families), including 1,265 children. 19 percent of the families are headed by women. Other particularly vulnerable cases include an elderly couple with no family support (very unusual in Afghanistan). A number of other families have members missing inside Afghanistan.
The site was designed to take a maximum of 325 families, a number already exceeded, and further registration of new arrivals was this morning suspended by the local Pakistani authorities. A sign was posted overnight at Killi Faizo in three languages, saying that there would be no further registration of new arrivals and they should go back across the border to Spin Boldak. By late afternoon, no new arrivals had been admitted, although around 55 people had crossed the border, and were waiting outside the camp. UNHCR is currently negotiating with the local authorities to open up another site nearby as a matter of utmost urgency, in the light of the poor health situation and since other vulnerable people continue to wait on the far side of the border.
The refugees in Killi Faizo have received a full package of aid including tents, blankets or quilts, cooking utensils and other non-food items from UNHCR, and food from the World Food Programme. Water facilities have been provided by Oxfam, and health care by Médecins Sans Frontières (Holland). Mercy Corps International is distributing food and non-food items, and tents are being erected by Islamic Relief. An Afghan NGO, the Guardians, is responsible for digging latrines at the site.
Taliban seize UNHCR office in Spin Boldak
UNHCR staff in Chaman have been informed that on Wednesday morning a group of armed Taliban seized the UNHCR field office just across the border in Spin Boldak. There were no UNHCR staff in the office at the time. This serious violation of UNHCR premises came just hours after a meeting between High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers and the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, at which Mr. Lubbers requested the Taliban to stop interfering with UNHCR property and staff, so that operations could continue inside Afghanistan.
Camp on Iranian border reported full
Reports received by UNHCR in Iran suggest that Makaki camp, which is run by the Iranian Red Crescent Society on the Afghan side of the border, has reached its limit of around 6,000 individuals/1,000 families. Other reports indicate that the Iranian authorities and the Iranian Red Crescent wish to transfer further new arrivals to the second camp inside Afghanistan, known as Mile-46, through Iranian territory so that Afghans do not have to cross the demarcation line between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, which bisects the route from Makaki to Mile-46. The population in Mile-46 camp now stands at 144 families/632 individuals.
There are indications that Iranian authorities are considering opening a third camp across the border, Pashmakeh (also in Afghan Nimruz province). Apart from already highlighted concerns related to safety and capacity of camps inside Afghanistan, UNHCR is worried that physical conditions at Pashmakeh site are even poorer than in the two other camps, in particular in terms of water supply.
Airlift to Turkmenistan
A plane carrying around 500 tents and 2,400 sleeping bags, donated by the Swiss government, landed at Turkmenabat airport, in Turkmenistan, early Wednesday. Two more planes and 8 trucks containing non-food items are expected to arrive in Turkmenabat soon. As with the stockpiles elsewhere in the region, the relief items being stockpiled by UNHCR in Central Asia can be used either for refugee operations in the neighbouring countries or for humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan, as and when that becomes possible.
In addition to the US$7.1 million recently donated by Italy to UNHCR's regional emergency programme, the Italian government confirmed Tuesday that it is donating a further 10 billion Italian lira (approx. US$ 5 million) for UNHCR refugee programmes in Iran. The Japanese government also confirmed Tuesday a donation of US$3.3 million for the current emergency operation.