Afghanistan: joint relief operation awaiting Pakistan permission
UNHCR staff in Quetta are meeting with the local authorities on the possibility of moving Afghans from the border area to Dara camp in Pakistan. A delay in the start of the meeting means it is unlikely we will be able to start the operation today, however. It takes at least two and a half hours to get to the border, through the restricted tribal areas from Quetta. UNHCR and the other aid agencies in Quetta are prepared to move at very short notice, once we receive the final go-ahead.
UNHCR brought a convoy containing 2,000 tents, 6,000 quilts, 2,000 kitchen sets, and 4,000 buckets to Quetta three days ago. These are now stored in the WFP warehouse ready to be loaded onto trucks for the border as soon as we get permission to move. UNICEF and WHO are on standby to cover the medical sector, and UNICEF is ready to help the local authorities and NGOs in provision of water and sanitation while WFP will provide food.
According to the plan worked out with the local authorities, the refugees will be registered by four joint UNHCR/government teams and then transported to an old refugee site at Dara, some 12 km from the border. There they will receive tents, food and other relief items.
A UNHCR team which visited the Chaman border on Sunday estimated there were 5,000-10,000 people waiting in the open on the other side, with no shelter. Groups of women and children were visible sitting in forlorn groups with their baggage. A similar, or perhaps even larger number is believed to be sheltering in the bazaar nearby. While it is not clear from a distance whether or not all these people are potential civilian refugees, it is likely that many of them are. We know of at least two women who gave birth at the border over the past week. They were allowed to enter Pakistan, given medical treatment and then sent back. We have also had unconfirmed reports of outbreaks of diarrhoea. Both UNHCR and several local officials we have talked to are concerned that conditions for some of those at the border could deteriorate, and we hope that those in need will be admitted soon.
In Iran, UNHCR and Iranian government refugee officials continue to identify possible refugee camp sites in the border area. A total of 12 proposed sites have been identified so far. The number of Afghans spontaneously returning to Afghanistan from Iran has fallen sharply from about 600 people a day to less than 200 a day, in the first such drop since June. However, no new arrivals in Iran have been reported since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Meanwhile, UNHCR has received pledges of US $ 6.8 million in start up funds to finance the setting up of a large-scale relief operation to tackle a possible influx of Afghan refugees into neighbouring countries. A much more substantial appeal for funding is currently being put together and will be launched later this week.