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Security problems in Pakistan pose obstacles to Afghan refugee relief effort

Security problems in Pakistan pose obstacles to Afghan refugee relief effort

Attacks by angry demonstrators against international organisations in Pakistan are posing serious obstacles to the humanitarian effort, but UNHCR plans to resume airlifting supplies to the country on Thursday.
10 October 2001
Small groups of Afghans are still crossing the officially closed Pakistan border, including this recently arrived family.

GENEVA, 10 Oct. (UNHCR) - With the security situation in Pakistan posing serious obstacles to the humanitarian effort underway in the region, work on prospective refugee campsites in Quetta and Peshawar was halted for the third consecutive day Wednesday, the UN Refugee Agency said.

Despite the security problems, the agency announced it would resume the airlifting of relief supplies from Copenhagen to Pakistan on Thursday after a brief interruption due to airspace restrictions in the region.

The refugee agency said that the difficult security situation in Pakistan "has drastically limited the freedom of movement of UNHCR international staff, with supplies being ferried mostly by local contractors."

Several international and local relief agencies were reportedly attacked Monday and Tuesday in the towns of Hangu, Landi Kotal, and Bajuar around Peshawar. UNHCR's office in Quetta sustained relatively little damage in Monday's demonstrations. At a meeting with the relief agency's staff, officials and local police expressed regret over the incidents and said they would increase security in Quetta and provide guards for staff travelling to the field.

Although no one was injured, demonstrators on Monday broke windows at the UNHCR office and forced the staff to seek safety elsewhere. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) building in Quetta was burned by the demonstrators.

"The string of attacks and continuing security interests highlight the difficulties for local and international relief agencies to operate safely in the tribal areas, where the government has identified possible sites for temporary refugee settlements," the relief agency said in a statement.

"Despite the security situation, UNHCR continues to build stockpiles of relief items in the border areas," the statement added.

On Tuesday, more than 3,000 tents were dispatched to Peshawar and Quetta from Karachi, the agency said. That shipment brings the stock of tents in Peshawar to 15,000, enough to house 80,000 people. In Quetta, there are 5,000 tents out of the 30,000 needed to accommodate the first 150,000 refugees.

Flights carrying relief supplies to Pakistan were briefly suspended due to the restricted airspace in the region. The flight scheduled to depart Thursday will carry 10,000 plastic sheets and materials to register the refugees, the agency said.

Thursday's flight is the first of up to ten such flights the refugee agency is planning over the next two weeks, if security conditions permit. The flights will alternate between Copenhagen and Peshawar and Copenhagen and Quetta, the key locations where UNHCR is building relief stocks to handle any refugee influx.

In another development, a UNHCR field team Tuesday accompanied two trucks of relief supplies to a new base in Nehbandan, Iran, about 400 kilometres south of Mashad near the Afghan border. The material was part of an effort to build up emergency supplies in the region. A water assessment mission also headed for Nehbandan Tuesday to evaluate potential campsites in the area, the agency said.