New influx of Afghan refugees arrives at Chaman border crossing in Pakistan
CHAMAN, Pakistan, Jan. 29 (UNHCR) - Thousands of refugees fleeing the continuing insecurity and lack of aid in some areas of Afghanistan have arrived at the Chaman border crossing.
The U.N. refugee agency estimated Tuesday that some 3,500 Afghans are camped just inside the Pakistani frontier at Chaman. Most are ethnic Pashtuns living in cities in northern Afghanistan, with some saying they were on the road for as long as two months before reaching the frontier.
At the same time, the agency said, an estimated 72,000 Afghans have voluntarily returned home from Pakistan and Iran since the start of the year, a fraction of the more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees in the two countries.
Although the refugee agency is making contingency plans for the return of up to one million refugees this spring, UNHCR has consistently said that Afghanistan is not now ready for a mass return, citing the insecurity, destroyed infrastructure, and omnipresence of land mines.
The new influx at Chaman is the second this year. More than 13,000 Afghans who began arriving on New Year's Eve have been relocated to some of the 13 refugee camps along the Pakistan border currently being operated by UNHCR. The camps currently hold about 151,000 persons.
The refugee agency said that on Monday it registered about 600 of the new arrivals "with the cooperation of the Pakistani authorities" at the Killi Faizo transit camp near Chaman. Some of the refugees were transferred to a site further inland at Darra.
UNHCR is planning to distribute aid in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar in an effort to stem the flow of refugees. But problems remain in reaching many people inside the country.
"Despite some recent improvements in Afghanistan, security for humanitarian aid workers remains a major problem, and many areas of the country remain off limits or under the strictest security guidelines," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said at a news briefing in Geneva.