Pakistan borders to stay closed
Islamabad, Sept 26 (UNHCR) - Pakistan authorities said today that borders will remain closed to Afghans without proper travel documents, but have indicated that people who manage to cross illegally will be assisted in camps in Pakistan. Pakistan authorities also announced that officials in Balochistan province are considering allowing women, children and elderly people waiting at the Chaman border entry point to cross for humanitarian reasons. Some 10,000 to 20,000 people are reportedly waiting at Chaman without shelter or humanitarian aid.
The UN refugee agency, which has been mounting a massive relief operation for any new Afghan arrivals in the region, has expressed its concern for Afghan civilians blocked by the closed-border policies.
In a statement, UNHCR said it understands "the extremely tense and complex situation facing the governments bordering on Afghanistan, including significant national security concerns." But stressed that "many Afghans are now stalled at frontiers inside their country, where the humanitarian situation as well as general security is deteriorating by the day."
The agency warned that the humanitarian situation is worsening and "could result in civilian deaths, particularly of women and children."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers have both called on countries in the region to keep their borders open for fleeing civilians.
In the meantime, aid agencies in the region continue gearing up for a potential massive influx of refugees. The UN refugee agency said it was visiting two refugee sites in the Quetta region together with non-governmental agencies and local authorities, to evaluate their suitability to take in new arrivals. In the Peshawar region, 100 potential sites have been designated, while in Iran, 12 possible camp locations have been identified. Iran and Pakistan already host more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees between them.