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Pakistan: fears for health of new Afghan arrivals

Briefing notes

Pakistan: fears for health of new Afghan arrivals

24 November 2000

UNHCR is continuing to appeal to Pakistani authorities to reopen its borders to Afghan refugees fleeing fighting in north-eastern Afghanistan and is very concerned that its staff had not been allowed access for weeks to more than 18,000 new arrivals in desperate need of help. The new arrivals, mostly women and children, are in very poor nutritional and health condition and in urgent need of shelter, food and medicine. There have been reports of several deaths among them, mainly children.

Since renewed fighting broke out in north-eastern Afghanistan in September, 47,000 Afghans have fled into Pakistan, which already hosts 1.2 million refugees.

It is believed that most of the latest arrivals entered Pakistan before the government closed its border on Nov. 9, saying it is unable to cope and fearing a flood of arrivals from Afghanistan. The new arrivals are predominantly Tajiks and Uzbeks, minority ethnic groups from the north-eastern provinces of Afghanistan, where the Taliban is battling the opposition Northern Alliance.

The first group of 16,200 is gathered at Jalozai, some 25 km east of Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The site has no sanitation and water facilities. The second group is in Akora Khattak, some 50 km east of Peshawar.

UNHCR was not informed of the new arrivals until three days ago. A team has visited the groups and requested Pakistani authorities to move them to the New Shamshatoo refugee village, where most of the refugees from the latest round of fighting in Afghanistan have been taken. UNHCR regrets Pakistan's decision to close the border. We have urged the government to reconsider and allow entry to all those in need of protection and assistance. We are concerned the closure will exacerbate the suffering of the victims of the conflict in the midst of winter and the worst drought in memory in Afghanistan.