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Thousands make their way into Pakistan

Thousands make their way into Pakistan

UNHCR says thousands of Afghans, mostly women and children, have managed to cross into Pakistan, even though the border remains officially closed.
28 September 2001
Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

QUETTA, Sept. 28 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency says that thousands of Afghans are managing to cross into Pakistan, even though the border remains officially closed.

"Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are believed to have arrived in Pakistan's Quetta region over the past week," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. "Most are staying with relatives and friends or trying to blend into existing Afghan refugee settlements in an effort not to attract attention."

UNHCR said most of those crossing are women and children, while men are staying behind in Afghanistan to keep an eye on their property. Some men accompanied their families across the border and then went straight back to Afghanistan. Many of the people who have fled to the Quetta region are ethnic Pashtuns, but there are also members of ethnic minorities among them.

Some of the refugees who arrived in the Quetta region over the past few days told UNHCR they had started their arduous journey even before the September 11 attack, driven out by drought and extreme poverty. Others say they left in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Those arriving from Kandahar say the city was gripped by panic on September 12, with thousands of people leaving hastily. They say prices of food in Kandahar nearly doubled in the wake of the September 11 attack. Refugees say those leaving cities for the countryside have to brave banditry on the roads and extortion.

Pakistan has repeatedly stated that the border with Afghanistan would remain shut. But on September 26, authorities indicated that anyone managing to enter the country illegally would receive assistance in refugee camps.

Up to 1.5 million Afghans could cross into neighbouring countries, 1 million of them into Pakistan, according to UNHCR planning figures. The refugee agency has said the planning figures represent a "worst-case scenario."

In another development, UNHCR was scheduled Friday to start airlifting supplies to Quetta. The first plane - an Ilyushin 76 loaded with 44 tons of plastic sheets - was set to leave Copenhagen late Friday and would arrive in Quetta around noon Saturday. The plane will then shuttle between Quetta and Copenhagen, bringing in more supplies.

UNHCR's donors, meanwhile, are responding well to the funding appeal launched earlier this week. The agency has so far received more than $12 million in direct pledges from several governments. They include: United Kingdom ($3.3 million); United States ($4 million); Germany ($3.5 million); Denmark ($1 million); and Greece ($500,000). American actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie contributed $1 million to the Afghanistan emergency - the largest donation to UNHCR by a private individual ever. UNHCR has appealed for $268 million to tackle a possible large-scale emergency in and around Afghanistan.