High Commissioner travels to Pakistan and Iran Friday to assess refugee situation
GENEVA, Oct. 25 (UNHCR) - High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers leaves Friday for a one-week mission to Pakistan and Iran to meet with high-level government officials and to evaluate the agency's emergency operations.
The High Commissioner, who is scheduled to spend two days in the Quetta region near the border with Afghanistan, will get a first-hand look at UNHCR's current state of readiness and at the ongoing preparations for a possible large-scale influx of Afghan refugees. The trip is Lubbers' second visit to the region in the last six months.
In another development, the agency estimated that around 10,000 Afghans who have recently entered the Peshawar area of Pakistan in North-West Frontier Province are being accommodated in camps, with thousands of others staying with relatives who had created a huge Afghan refugee community long before last month's terrorist attacks in the United States.
"People interviewed spoke of increasing insecurity in their areas of origin and said they left because of fears of heavy bombing, possible retaliation by Northern Alliance forces, looting, and conscription," according to a UNHCR statement.
From Iran, the Red Cross reported that 3,740 people had arrived at the Makaki camp located just across the border inside Afghanistan, doubling the population at that site in the last two days. Another 568 persons were at a second camp at Mile 46.
During a visit to the Milak border crossing near Zabol in Iran's south-eastern Sistan-Baluchistan province, a UNHCR team was also told by arriving Afghan families that 1,500 additional people were wandering around Zaranj in Afghanistan's Nimruz province looking for help.
Lubbers will visit sites near the Chaman crossing point in the Quetta area and meet with Baluchistan Province officials, non-governmental organizations, and UNHCR staff.
The High Commissioner will hold talks Monday and Tuesday in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad with government officials and members of the diplomatic corps. He will fly to Iran Wednesday to review preparations on that side of the Afghan border and meet with officials in Teheran, returning to Geneva next Friday.
Interviews by UNHCR staff members indicate that most of the refugees arriving in the Peshawar area came from Nangarhar and the capital of Kabul, which has been heavily bombed in recent days. Refugees recounted their horrible experiences during the trip, including maiming by land mines.
"According to the refugees, many families have become separated during their escape," the agency said. "Some families had to leave behind weak or disabled family members who could not manage the long walk to Pakistan. Others were left behind because they could not afford to pay for the journey and the entry into Pakistan. Many reported family members stranded at the Afghanistan border."
An additional 148 people arrived at the Killi Faizo temporary staging site located about two kilometres inside Pakistan near the Chaman border crossing, bringing the total number of people at the site to more than 250. Médecins Sans Frontières began providing medical care earlier this week, vaccinating 110 children between the ages of 26 months and 15 years against measles.
The site is an emergency measure designed to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable Afghan refugees entering Pakistan. At the same time, work is continuing on the Roghani and Tor Tangi sites that together will be able to hold up to 50,000 refugees.