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Afghanistan: UNHCR mounts massive relief operation

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: UNHCR mounts massive relief operation

21 September 2001

UNHCR is mounting a massive relief operation for any Afghans fleeing their homeland. We have ordered 20,000 tents valued at $1.4 million from suppliers in Pakistan, in addition to the more than 9,300 tents that we already have stored in-country. Beginning next week, we will be airlifting plastic tarpaulins from our stockpile near Copenhagen, where we have stocks for 1 million people. In addition, we expect that the Japanese government will also be airlifting stocks of relief supplies.

This weekend, UNHCR begins the deployment of 25 experienced emergency preparedness staff to Pakistan, where they will join our existing staff of more than 150. All the newly identified emergency personnel should be in-country within the week. This is in addition to the emergency coordinators who were dispatched last week.

Yesterday, as you know, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers urged states to keep their borders open and called for a "humanitarian coalition" to help share the burden. Afghans are directly affected by the current insecurity in their homeland, and governments worldwide and especially those bordering on Afghanistan should respond in a humanitarian way. We are also appealing to governments to work to prevent hostility against Afghans and other Muslim asylum-seekers and refugees. "It would be very wrong if they were to become the target of popular anger or of restrictive governmental measures," he said.

All the countries bordering on Afghanistan have officially closed their borders to people without visas, though thousands of Afghans seem to be entering both Pakistan and Iran over irregular crossing points. Inside Afghanistan, we understand that many Afghans are continuing to leave for the countryside. Based on sketchy reports from inside the country, every major city has seen some movement toward the countryside.