Pakistan: Winter comes to the makeshift border encampments
Biting cold has arrived in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, and this week we have begun the emergency distribution of more than 160,000 blankets around the Pakistani border city of Chaman and in other refugee camps in the region to protect thousands of Afghans threatened by a wave of freezing weather.
UNHCR staff today completed the distribution of 19,507 extra blankets to Afghan asylum seekers who have been stranded in the "waiting area" just inside the Pakistani border at Chaman since Pakistan barred the admission of more refugees last February. Each Afghan at the squalid, makeshift site received one blanket, in addition to the supplies that have been handed out earlier in the year.
An additional 700 baby blankets will be distributed to mothers through the health centre in the "waiting area" operated by Médecins Sans Frontières. The distribution of extra winter clothes is also being arranged.
The UN refugee agency also is transferring 20,000 blankets from its Chaman warehouses for distribution among the internally displaced Afghans in Spin Boldak, the town just across the border inside Afghanistan. The first 13,000 blankets were trucked across the frontier this morning, and the rest should reach Spin Boldak before nightfall.
We have encouraged Afghans stuck at the makeshift sites in Spin Boldak and Chaman to move to the temporary Zhare Dasht camp, located west of Kandahar, which we established in August. Some 19,000 people did agree to move to this new site, where we have established proper services, but many wanted to remain in the makeshift border encampments.
Following the distributions in the "waiting area" and Spin Boldak - places where the displaced Afghans could be at greatest risk - blankets will be distributed in the rest of the refugee camps that were established in Pakistan's Balochistan Province a year ago to shelter Afghans fleeing the U.S.-led war against the Taliban.
Additional supplies are being obtained to meet the need for 121,000 more blankets in these refugee camps. Each refugee will receive one blanket.
In addition, UNHCR has begun distributing coal in the Chaman area. Heating coal will be supplied to all the refugee camps established in Balochistan last year.
The cold weather, with temperatures plunging at night to below -10ºC, had triggered rumours of deaths among the refugees and internally displaced Afghans living across the frontier in five makeshift camps located at Spin Boldak. While there have been deaths from various causes over recent weeks, UNHCR has been unable to verify that any were caused by the current low temperatures.
Elsewhere, the Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriation, Mr. Enayatullah Nazari, has arrived in Islamabad to meet with UNHCR and Pakistan government officials and review the plans for next year's repatriation. He plans to meet with refugee representatives from camps in Pakistan's Baluchistan and North West Frontier Provinces before returning to Kabul on Saturday. More than 1.5 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan since UNHCR and the Afghan government began facilitating returns in March. The number of returns has dropped significantly since the start of autumn.