UNHCR braces for refugee influx into Iran
TEHRAN, Sept 19 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and Iranian authorities are preparing for a possible influx of Afghan refugees into Iran, beefing up stockpiles of relief supplies and touring border areas to identify potential refugee sites. No new arrivals have crossed into Iran in recent days, according to UNHCR, and the border remains officially closed. However, UN refugee agency spokesman Peter Kessler said, "In meetings with UNHCR, authorities have been very understanding that there could possibly be a new outflow of people from Afghanistan." Iran already hosts over 1.5 million Afghan refugees who have fled the civil war in their country over the last 20 years.
Meanwhile, some 15,000 Afghans have entered Pakistan near the south-western city of Quetta. UNHCR reports that some are finding shelter with other Afghans already living in Quetta who are taking in the new arrivals. Some 5,000 of the refugees are camped at the Chaman border crossing, and their status remains unresolved. "We hope this group can integrate into one of Pakistan's existing camps with sufficient shelter, water and other relief supplies," said Kessler.
Other Afghans trying to enter Pakistan have been unable to reach the border at the Torkham and Spin-Boldak crossing points. They have reportedly now left those areas in search of other routes across the border, or have retreated back into the Afghan countryside.
Rural areas of Afghanistan appear to be the primary destination of those fleeing the cities. UNHCR noted continuing movement out of Kandahar and Kabul, as well as new reports of the first people leaving Herat in the north-west of the country. The desperate people are joining hundreds of thousands already displaced in Afghanistan by 20 years of civil war and a devastating drought. Millions of others are refugees in neighbouring countries.