UNHCR expresses concern about possible new influx of refugees towards Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan, Nov. 15 (UNHCR) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday it was "increasingly concerned" about a possible new influx of refugees into Pakistan, and said armed men may be among those headed for the border.
The agency made its statement after reports indicated that thousands of people were leaving the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand and that several thousand had already crossed into southern Baluchistan Province.
"UNHCR insists that refugee camps must remain only humanitarian", the UN agency said in a statement. "Governments of states hosting refugees have the responsibility to ensure the separation of any possible combatants from refugee populations and guarantee the non-military nature of the camps."
Meanwhile, the population at the Killi Faizo staging site near the Afghan border grew to nearly 2,500 Thursday despite the departure of 1,300 people for the Roghani camp further inland. UNHCR staff registered 180 families at the camp in addition to the 800 people who had been waiting outside the site and were finally permitted by Pakistani authorities to enter the camp Wednesday.
Two women who recently gave birth to stillborn infants were among those who crossed into Pakistan at the Chaman border Thursday. They were transferred to the Roghani camp where they were able to bury their babies.
The transfers to the Roghani camp, which now total more than 2,400, began last Sunday after an agreement between UNHCR and Pakistan authorities. The refugee agency wants to use Killi Faizo as a transit centre only before moving the refugees to more adequate areas such as Roghnai.
In another development, UNHCR's office in the Afghan capital of Kabul has been reopened and local staff has returned to work.
While the Northern Alliance now controls most of the mountainous country, the routed Taliban forces have retreated to their stronghold of Kandahar, where US led bombing missions continue.
"UNHCR is maintaining its preparedness in Pakistan to deal with a possible influx," the agency said. "Additional shelter materials and blankets are being moved into the border areas in Baluchistan."
While thousands of Afghans are reportedly moving towards the Pakistani border, more than 1,300 voluntarily returned home Thursday from Iran in the largest single-day return since the end of August, UNHCR said.
Many of the returning refugees, who used the Dogharoun border crossing, told UNHCR that they wanted to see the developments in Herat now that the city was in the hands of the Northern Alliance. But many remained cautious, leaving their families behind until they were more certain of the situation in western Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the departure of a joint UNHCR-Iranian Red Crescent Society aid convoy from Mashad in north-east Iran to Herat in western Afghanistan scheduled to leave Wednesday was postponed because loading had not been completed.
Aid workers were able to return to the Makaki camp Thursday after their safety was assured by Iranian authorities. The camp, just inside the Afghan border, was established a month ago by the Iranian Red Crescent Society, but UNHCR and other aid agencies have been unable to work there because of security considerations.
The Iranian authorities said they transferred some 700 Afghans who had been staying outside the camp to Mile 46, another Iranian run camp for displaced persons inside Afghanistan.
"UNHCR remains very concerned about the two camps just inside Afghanistan and continues to urge the government of Iran to allow these people inside its territory if they are unable to return to their homes," UNHCR said.