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UNHCR, Pakistan reach broad agreement on refugees

UNHCR, Pakistan reach broad agreement on refugees

The U.N. refugee agency and the government of Pakistan reached a broad-based agreement to open eleven new camps, allow some 135,000 so-called "invisible refugees" to move into the sites, and move thousands of others from the Killi Fazio and New Jalozai camps to other facilities.
8 November 2001
A family at the Killi Faizo holding site. Some 3,000 people at the camp will be transferred to better facilities.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 8 (UNHCR) - The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Pakistani government reached agreement to open 11 new refugee sites, permit Afghans now in homes and cities to enter the camps without fear of deportation, and move thousands of people from two temporary sites to better suited facilities.

Marking the end of the first month of the United States led bombing campaign in Afghanistan, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers appealed to the international community Thursday to live up to its promises to help civilians in Afghanistan.

"As the military effort to fight terrorism enters its second month, we need to underscore the commitment made by coalition leaders to the Afghan people that this war is not against them, and that the humanitarian effort will remain a priority," Lubbers said in a statement released at the refugee agency's Geneva headquarters.

The broad-based agreement was reached Wednesday during a meeting in Islamabad between Pakistan's minister responsible for refugee affairs, Abbas Sarfraz Khan, and representatives from UNHCR, the World Food Programme, and provincial and local officials. The accord was concluded just days after a meeting last week between Lubbers and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Under terms of the agreement, the 3,000 refugees now at the Killi Faizo facility near the Chaman border crossing are scheduled to be transferred in the next few days to the nearby Roghani camp site. Roghani and two other camps, Tor Tangi and Dara, are near Chaman and have a maximum capacity of 70,000 refugees between them.

Even more importantly, the estimated 135,000 so-called invisible refugees who have entered Pakistan through back roads and mountain passes since September 11 will be allowed to move into the new camps without fear of being deported back to Afghanistan.

"Many of these [refugees] have been living in a nebulous, and in some cases precarious, existence either in old refugee camps in Pakistan or in cities such as Peshawar and Quetta," a statement from UNHCR said Thursday. "It will be a great deal easier to give these refugees proper assistance in camps than in their current situation, mixed in with a general urban population."

In addition, tens of thousands of Afghans living in the New Jalozai camp near Peshawar will be relocated to new sites near the border. "While many of these Afghans were already in Jalozai before September 11," UNHCR said, "they have been joined by others arriving since then. In general their living conditions have been highly unsatisfactory."

The refugees now in New Jalozai will be moved to the Kotkai refugee site in Bajaur agency at the rate of 500 people a day, with the refugee agency providing the transportation and the Pakistani government responsible for their security during the trip.

In his statement Thursday, Lubbers said that enormous planning, effort, and resources are being devoted to the war against terrorism, but that many urgent humanitarian needs were not being addressed by the international community.

"The war against terrorism is necessary," Lubbers concluded. "But there is also a concomitant international duty to help the Afghan people - both inside and outside - and to make good on the promises made to them at the beginning of this conflict that they are not the target of this war and will not be forgotten."

While the agreement was reached with Pakistan, Iran reportedly deported more than 100 Afghans back to their country Wednesday, UNHCR said. The new deportations brought to some 350 the number of persons who have been sent back by Iranian authorities in the past few days alone.

On Tuesday, UNHCR's Chief of Mission in Tehran met with senior government officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs and expressed concern about the deportation reports. "The ministry last month reassured UNHCR that deportation of Afghans would be discontinued," the agency said Thursday.