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Afghanistan: Pakistan border officially shut, but thousands trickle through

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: Pakistan border officially shut, but thousands trickle through

28 September 2001

While the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains officially shut, thousands of Afghans are trickling into Pakistan through the mountains. Anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people are believed to have arrived in Pakistan's Quetta region over the past week. Most people are staying with relatives and friends or trying to blend into existing Afghan refugee settlements in an effort not to attract attention. One local man in Quetta said he was hosting 25 Afghan refugees while another said he accommodated 16. Those crossing are mostly women and children. The refugees say most men stay behind in Afghanistan to keep an eye on their property or accompany their families across the border and then go straight back. Some of the refugees who arrived in the Quetta region over the past few days told UNHCR they had started their arduous journey even before the September 11 attack, driven out by drought and extreme poverty. Others say they left in the wake of the attacks. Those arriving from Kandahar say the city was gripped by panic on September 12 with thousands of people leaving hastily. They say prices of food in Kandahar nearly doubled in the wake of the September 11 attack. Refugees say those leaving cities for the countryside have to brave banditry on the roads and extortion. Many of the people who have fled to the Quetta region are ethnic Pashtuns but there are also representatives of ethnic minorities among them.

UNHCR on Friday will start airlifting supplies to Quetta. The first plane - an Ilyushin 76 loaded with 44 tons of plastic sheets - is scheduled to leave Copenhagen Friday night and will arrive in Quetta around noon Saturday. The plane will then shuttle between Quetta and Copenhagen bringing in more supplies. In Quetta UNHCR is now looking for an additional 3,000 square metres of warehousing space.

UNHCR's donors are responding well to the funding appeal launched earlier this week. We have so far received more than $12 million in direct pledges to UNHCR from several governments. They include: United Kingdom ($3.3 million), United States ($4 million), Germany ($3.5 million), Denmark ($1 million) and Greece ($500,000). American actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie contributed $1 million to the Afghanistan emergency - the largest donation to UNHCR by a private individual ever. UNHCR has appealed for $268 million to tackle a possible large-scale emergency in and around Afghanistan. In the short term, UNHCR urgently needs $30 million to be able to handle a possible influx of the first 100,000 people.