Afghanistan Humanitarian Update No. 3
Up to 15,000 Afghans have entered Pakistan in the last week, mainly arriving in Balochistan Province along the country's south-west border with Afghanistan.
UN refugee agency staff in Quetta, Pakistan, report that up to 10,000 Afghans crossed into the country in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Most of the new arrivals are staying with relatives and friends living in and around Quetta in Balochistan Province. Others have found shelter with Afghan refugee families who have lived for some time in Pakistan. Some families have taken three or four newly arrived Afghan families into their homes.
Another group of 5,000 Afghans are encamped near the Chaman crossing point just inside Pakistan. UNHCR is in talks with Pakistan's government on whether this group can be integrated into existing camps where shelter and water supplies are readily available, or whether the authorities will insist that new camps be established to shelter new arrivals - a time-consuming and expensive exercise.
UNHCR on Wednesday sent a convoy of 25 trucks from Islamabad to Quetta loaded with 2,000 tents, 6,000 blankets, 4,000 jerry cans and 2,000 kitchen sets.
In Pakistan's rugged North-West Frontier Province, journalists and aid workers have been stopped from reaching the border just short of the Khyber Pass, so it is difficult to verify the situation at the Afghan frontier. Reports indicate that Afghans unable to cross at Torkham or at Spin-Boldak, in Balochistan, have left the immediate area in search of other routes, or are retreating to the countryside inside Afghanistan.
In the meantime, additional UNHCR staff members have been dispatched from Islamabad to support operations in Peshawar and Quetta.
In Iran, UNHCR staff in Mashad and Zahedan are monitoring the frontier but have not reported any new arrivals over recent days.
UNHCR and the government's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA) are pre-positioning supplies along the country's frontier with Afghanistan. On Tuesday, UNHCR and BAFIA dispatched eight trucks from Mashad loaded with relief items to supplement stockpiles in Hassanabad and sites between Dogharoun and Birjand.
UN refugee agency staff based in Mashad are undertaking joint assessment missions with BAFIA to identify possible refugee sites along the Afghan border. While Iran, like Pakistan, has formally closed its border with Afghanistan for much of the last year, in meetings with UNHCR, authorities have been very understanding that there could possibly be a new outflow of people from Afghanistan. BAFIA is replenishing its own existing stockpiles of emergency supplies, including items such as blankets, plastic tarpaulins and soap.
UNHCR undertook a two-day mission to the Afghan border beginning on Tuesday. The mission met with various authorities at the frontier. Some 10,000 Afghans, including thousands of women and children, remain camped on several islands in the Pyanj River, where they have been staying for almost a year. No new arrivals on the frontier islands have been recorded so far, but local officials believe that more Afghans could head to the area should the situation further destabilize.
Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan
Inside Afghanistan, relief workers estimate that more than half of Kandahar's population has left. Movements of people out of the western city of Herat, near the Iranian border, have also begun.
In Kabul, movements out of the city reportedly continue. However, few are moving in the direction of the Pakistan border.
Transportation is a major problem in Afghanistan, as the country's infrastructure is in ruins and fuel is in very short supply. Aside from some urban Afghans, many people lack the money to hire transport for themselves and their families in order to move out of the cities and into the rural areas that seem to be their primary destination.
High Commissioner Lubbers in U.S.
Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers urged officials to carefully weigh the humanitarian consequences of any actions in Afghanistan.
Reiterating his shock and sadness over last week's terrorist attacks, Lubbers said, "It has galvanized a coalition against terrorism. That is good." But he stressed the need "to give all attention that is possible to the humanitarian aspects of possible reactions to this situation." He warned that a "too blunt and not specific enough" reaction could mean "disaster for many people, many innocent citizens."
He also urged the international community to help improve the situation for "ordinary people" in Afghanistan "and then we can start again with our work there."
Lubbers, whose agency cares for nearly 22 million refugees and others of concern worldwide, also appealed to Americans to guard against any xenophobic backlash in the wake of the events. "I am very glad that the opinion leaders in the United States were very open in saying let's take care not to nourish sentiments, feelings against foreigners, what is called xenophobia. Let us not do that."