Lubbers leaves for Pakistan and Iran to inspect refugee camps
GENEVA, Oct. 26 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers was flying to Pakistan and Iran over the weekend to meet with high government officials and review first hand the agency's emergency preparations for a possible inflow of Afghan refugees.
As the High Commissioner embarked on his trip, UNHCR expressed concern about the safety of persons in two camps run by the Iranian Red Crescent Society inside Afghanistan, even as more refugees arrived at a temporary staging site on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border.
Lubbers is scheduled to spend two days in the Quetta region of Pakistan near the Afghan border. He is to visit sites near the Chaman crossing point and meet with Baluchistan Province officials, non-governmental organizations, and UNHCR staff.
"He wants to see the state of preparedness in case of a large-scale influx of refugees," said Ron Redmond, UNHCR's spokesman.
Lubbers will also meet with high-ranking government officials in Islamabad and Teheran. The trip is Lubbers' second visit to the region in the last six months.
Regarding the situation on the Iranian border, UNHCR expressed concern about the safety of displaced persons in two camps operated by the Iranian Red Crescent Society inside Afghanistan, Makaki and Mile 46.
"Many Afghans approaching the border, which remains totally closed, express their fears of forced recruitment by the Taliban, roundups near the border area, or of being used as human shields by the Taliban," the refugee agency said.
The humanitarian organization expressed similar concerns concerning the proposed sites at a so-called zero point along the border between Iran and Afghanistan, and reiterated its hopes that Iran open its borders to refugees.
Shelter at the Makaki camp in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is said to be insufficient, according to sporadic reports from non-governmental organizations. The agency said there are currently 444 tents set up at the site that can house 3,000 people, fewer than the current camp's population of 3,427.
Meanwhile, Afghan families are continuing to cross the Pakistan border to the Killi Faizo staging camp near Chaman. An additional 145 persons had entered the camp by Friday afternoon, with a similar number reported to be ready to cross the frontier. In all there some 415 refugees installed in the camp.
UNHCR and other relief agencies are distributing food and other relief items to the refugees, including wheat flour, lentils, and vegetable oil. They have also received stoves, kerosene, and kitchen sets in addition to the tents, plastic sheets and blankets distributed earlier.
"While the Killi Faizo site remains useful as an initial staging post, it is bleak, windswept, and dusty and without any possibility of a fixed water supply," the U.N. agency said. It expressed the hope that permission would soon be granted to move new arrivals to two more suitable sites at Roghani and Tor Tangi south of Chaman.
One ethnic Uzbek family who came from a town near Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan's far north said they had left because Northern Alliance forces fighting the Taliban regime were forcibly conscripting men. The Northern Alliance forces are trying to capture the strategically located city from the Taliban.
"Many of the refugees crossing at Chaman over the past few weeks have told UNHCR that they fear being forced to fight for the Taliban," the agency said. "These consistent reports of forced conscription underscore the need for open borders in countries neighbouring Afghanistan."