Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

UNHCR expresses 'frustration' over obstacles in preparing for possible influx of refugees

UNHCR expresses 'frustration' over obstacles in preparing for possible influx of refugees

The UN Refugee Agency expressed growing 'concern and frustration' Thursday at what it called numerous obstacles in preparing campsites in Pakistan for up to 300,000 new Afghan refugees.
11 October 2001
Small groups of Afghans are still crossing the officially closed Pakistan border, including this recently arrived family.

GENEVA, 11 Oct. (UNHCR) - The United Nations refugee agency Thursday expressed growing "concern and frustration" over what it said were numerous obstacles in carrying out preparations for a possible influx of up to 300,000 new refugees to Pakistan from Afghanistan.

"We are in a real race against time, and right now we are losing," High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said in a statement. "Obviously, we hope there are no new refugees fleeing to neighbouring states, but there is every possibility that we could soon start seeing large numbers of new arrivals."

Lubbers said the possibilities of aiding Afghans inside their country was a limited option at the moment.

"In any event, it is our responsibility to work with [surrounding] asylum countries to be prepared in the event of a refugee influx," the High Commissioner continued. "Unfortunately, we are not receiving the support - in the region or internationally - that we need."

The refugee agency and its partners have set an initial planning goal of building and equipping camps to handle up to 400,000 new arrivals in Pakistan and Iran.

"Compounding the problems is the insistence of the Pakistani government that any new camps be built in dry, remote and insecure tribal areas along the Afghan border," the relief agency statement said.

It said that while recognizing the refugee burden that already weighs on Pakistan, which is currently the host to some two million Afghan refugees, UNHCR would continue to press for more suitable sites further inland.

Lubbers also urged "neighbouring states to open their borders to those in need of protection and assistance."

The agency said that its staff in the border areas of Pakistan had been largely restricted to their offices for a fourth consecutive day Thursday because of security concerns.

"Although no major movements have been reported, borders in neighbouring countries remain closed," the statement added. "In Pakistan, red tape and security concerns prevent UNHCR field teams from getting access to border areas to monitor possible population movements of from offering immediate assistance to any new arrivals."

UNHCR staff members were able to go to their offices in Quetta, one of the major refugee centres, for the first time on Thursday since a stone-throwing crowd attacked the facilities on Monday. But the staff have been unable to go into the field "to work on urgently needed camp sites or to monitor the border," the statement said.

In a related development, the refugee agency urged donor countries to quickly provide the $50 million needed for the first phase of the contingency plans to provide shelter for up to 400,000 people. While $29 million has been pledged to date, less than $23 million has been received to date, UNHCR said.

"We have repeatedly stressed the need for international burden-sharing in this emergency so that the neighbouring states, who have already made enormous sacrifices, can be more generous in their response as well," Lubbers said.

He added that any supplies pre-positioned by UNHCR in Pakistan and Iran could be transferred to Afghanistan itself if there was no major influx into neighbouring states.