UNHCR rushes aid to help Afghan earthquake victims
KABUL, March 27 (UNHCR) - The refugee agency is rushing aid into areas of north-central Afghanistan that were hit by the earthquake Monday night, leaving thousands of people homeless.
The quake, however, has not stopped the flow of returnees to Afghanistan. On Wednesday, the 100,000th refugee was registered at the Takhtabaig registration centre near Peshawar since the repatriation operation began March 1.
More than 10,000 Afghans arrived at the centre Wednesday in 654 vehicles. At the same time, refugee agency officials turned back 529 families who wanted to register because they said their interest in returning home appeared doubtful. Individuals who register receive $20 to help pay their transportation costs.
"With more than 100,000 people repatriating in less than a month, the initiative is on track to surpass the 400,000-person target from Pakistan for 2002 initially planned," the agency said in a statement.
UNHCR plans to begin a similar operation April 9 for refugees in Iran. Authorities from Iran and Afghanistan plan to meet in Geneva April 3 to sign a tripartite agreement with the refugee agency on the return operation.
In all, the agency expects to help 1.2 million refugees and internally displaced persons return home this year.
Monday night's earthquake caused heavy damage in outlying areas of Nahrin District and neighbouring Burqa District, with some 40 surrounding villages affected by the tremors.
UNHCR staff in Kabul on Wednesday sent 11.6 metric tons of aid to Mazar-i-Sharif, including 56 family tents, 795 plastic tarpaulins, and 900 jerry cans aboard two heavy-lift cargo helicopters belonging to the International Assistance Force. The items are to be transferred to the affected areas by other helicopters.
In addition, a UNHCR-chartered Ilyushin 76 cargo aircraft with more than 14,000 blankets on board for the earthquake victims arrived in Kabul.
Five truckloads of aid were also dispatched Wednesday from UNHCR stockpiles in Kabul to Pul-I-Khumri west of the affected area carrying tons of tents and other materials. This followed an earlier delivery on Tuesday of 1,200 plastic tarpaulins and 40 tents from Kabul. On Wednesday, the agency sent 500 tents to help the homeless.