UNHCR urges refugees not to rush home despite Taliban collapse
GENEVA, Dec. 7 (UNHCR) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Friday urged millions of Afghans in Pakistan and Iran to avoid rushing home despite the collapse of the last Taliban stronghold in Kandahar.
"Our advice to refugees is that this is not the time for a hasty repatriation," UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told a news briefing. "This is not the time to rush home, and this is not the time to be rushed home by the host country."
Kessler said conditions inside the war-wracked country were still too difficult to receive an estimated 3.5 million refugees outside the country.
He added, however, that forced deportations of refugees were "unacceptable in the current climate" and "the situation inside the country is far too fragile to be forcing people to go back home at this time."
Although there have been some forced deportations of refugees, notably from Iran, their number has been relatively small despite an influx of about 160,000 refugees into Pakistan alone since the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The refugee agency said that the collapse of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar had had little effect thus far in the border areas. UNHCR estimates that there were currently 17,000 newly arrived Afghan refugees in two camps near the border town of Chaman in Pakistan's southern Baluchistan Province.
At least 2,000 destitute people were waiting in the so-called no-man's land near Chaman, braving heavy dust storms and low temperatures at night. Pakistani authorities were allowing UNHCR to register only about 400 persons a day at its Killi Faizo staging site.
Several major logistics operations were in progress.
The first 14-truck convoy of aid from UNHCR's depot in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, was leaving Saturday carrying 1,000 tents, 7,000 blankets, 4,000 sleeping bags and other items donated by the Swiss government for Afghans in Badghis and Faryab Provinces near the city of Herat.
The agency's office there, which was recently reopened, continued the distribution of relief supplies to displaced civilians living in the nearby Maslakh camp where "needs are enormous." A second aid convoy from the eastern Iranian city of Mashad was scheduled to leave for this area Sunday carrying 1,000 tents and plastic tarpaulins, 10,000 blankets, and 5,000 bars of soap, among other items.
The major Nijni Pyandj-Shirkhan Bandar river crossing between Tajikistan and Afghanistan was opened and barges of humanitarian aid from the Russian Government's relief arm, EMERCOM were scheduled to cross en route to Kabul during the weekend.