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Afghanistan: Over 3,600 relocated from makeshift Chaman encampment

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: Over 3,600 relocated from makeshift Chaman encampment

4 July 2003

Over the past five days, we have relocated more than 3,600 Afghans to new sites inside Pakistan and Afghanistan from a makeshift encampment perched on the border at Chaman where 20,000 asylum seekers had been stranded since early 2002. Since the start of the operation on Monday, four convoys of trucks hired by UNHCR have carried 2,340 Afghans to the Mohammad Kheil refugee camp inside Pakistan, while another three UNHCR convoys carried 1,311 Afghans to the settlement of Zhare Dasht, outside the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

UNHCR and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed in May on the plan to empty the "waiting area," a squalid site just inside Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, because of continuing concerns about insecurity and the difficulty of providing assistance there. The pace of the movement will accelerate in the coming days as we expect to move up to some 1,500 people daily.

The "waiting area" was created by asylum seekers when Pakistan closed its borders to new refugee arrivals in February 2002, but the zone was always considered unsuitable for a refugee camp. It was on a smuggling route, and the lack of security was underlined in the past month when the bodies of 22 fighters killed in a nearby battle with Afghan government troops were dumped in the centre of the refugee settlement. In addition, Pakistani authorities, anxious to prevent the area from becoming a permanent village, would not let UNHCR provide more than basic humanitarian aid such as food and water. Aside from a few UNHCR tarpaulins distributed to emergency cases a year ago, the refugees lived under ragged home-made tents.