Keep borders open for Afghan refugees - UN Refugee Chief
GENEVA, Sept 20 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers urged states surrounding Afghanistan to keep their borders open so desperate people fleeing the strife-torn country can be protected. He also called for an international "humanitarian coalition" to help share the burden.
"We have repeatedly appealed to and worked with the governments in the region to keep their borders open and to make it possible for refugees to benefit from protection," the High Commissioner said.
"We believe that given the current situation inside Afghanistan, there is even more reason to encourage all countries, including those bordering Afghanistan, not to close their doors. Many Afghans are not only afraid of what may happen in future, but are now - in addition to the current tensions - fearing even greater difficulties than before because international humanitarian agencies like mine had to withdraw their international staff."
The UN refugee agency appealed to all parties involved to respond "in a humanitarian way" to Afghans directly affected by the current insecurity in Afghanistan. "In particular we ask that borders remain open to all persons having to flee, not least because of the deteriorating security situation," said Lubbers.
Since the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, Afghans have been leaving Afghanistan's major cities. Tens of thousands have attempted to leave the country, and some 15,000 have entered Pakistan. The countries surrounding Afghanistan have kept their borders closed and several have clearly stated they would not accept any more Afghan refugees. Iran already hosts more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees who have fled Afghanistan's 21 year civil war and a more recent crippling drought. Pakistan hosts some 2 million refugees.
Assuring Afghanistan's neighbours that UNHCR and the international community will help in the humanitarian effort, Lubbers said the neighbouring states "will not be left alone."
"Indeed, UNHCR is already mobilizing staff, food, and other supplies to help with present and future outflows. If there is to be a military coalition, there should also be a humanitarian coalition to really share the burden," he said.
Lubbers asked governments to provide temporary protection to those fleeing Afghanistan, and pledged that UNHCR would work with all concerned to help people return home as soon as circumstances allow. At the same time, he said, there is a need to ensure safe humanitarian access to those Afghans inside Afghanistan.
Prior to the recent population movements, estimates put the number of displaced people in Afghanistan at nearly 1 million. Some 3.8 million depend on international food aid. Their situation has become more grave since September 11, as international aid workers have evacuated the country and more people have fled into the countryside.