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Influx of Pakistani refugees could spark crisis – ministry official

Pakistani refugees in eastern Afghanistan in September 2008.
(Golam Rasol Hasas/IRIN)

Any increase in the flow of refugees from northwestern Pakistan into eastern parts of Afghanistan could lead to a humanitarian crisis unless international aid organisations deliver urgent assistance, a senior official at Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Returnees Affairs (MoRRA) has said.

"We are deeply concerned about insecurity in the Tribal Areas [of Pakistan] and the influx of Pakistani refugees into Afghanistan," Abdul Qader Ahadi, deputy minister in the MoRRA, told IRIN in Kabul on 5 October.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said over 3,900 families (about 20,000 individuals) had abandoned their homes in the Bajaur Agency of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and sought refuge in Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar over the past few weeks.

The Afghan government's warning echoes similar concerns raised by others.

"The continued fighting in southern Afghanistan and the more recent conflict in northern Pakistan are creating a very dangerous situation in the region for civilians trying to find refuge. With the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there is an expectation that even more civilians will leave their homes to avoid the fighting," Amnesty International said in a statement on 3 October.


Photo: Golam Rasol Hasas/IRIN
Many Pakistani refugees shifted to Afghanistan's Kunar Province with their belongings, according to aid workers

Afghan refugees in FATA?

Armed clashes between Pakistani security forces and Islamist militants associated with the Taliban in FATA and elsewhere in Pakistan have affected local people and Afghan refugees living there, aid agencies said.

In a bid to clear the FATA of Islamist insurgents, the Pakistani government on 3 October reportedly called on Afghan refugees living in the Bajaur border region to vacate the area within three days.

Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Kabul, said there were no confirmed reports of "registered Afghan refugees" living in the volatile Tribal Areas.

"UNHCR does not have access to the Tribal Areas and we are not aware of registered Afghan refugees there," Farhad told IRIN, adding that refugee camps in FATA were closed down in 2005 at the request of the Pakistani government.

"We have requested the Pakistani authorities to ensure that registered refugees who may still live in the FATA are not forced to return to Afghanistan," Farhad said, adding that the option to relocate elsewhere in Pakistan must be made available to refugees.

Both MoRRA and the UNHCR said any unregistered Afghans living in the FATA might be deemed eligible for forced deportation.

Humanitarian response

Afghan government bodies and several aid organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, have delivered food and non-food assistance to some Pakistani refugees in Kunar Province, the MoRRA said. No figures were available.

The UNHCR said it had distributed non-food items such as plastic sheets, blankets, jerry cans and lanterns to families and was coordinating aid activities for the Pakistani refugees.

"We know those refugees need more assistance but we don't have adequate resources to respond," MoRRA's Ahadi said.

There were also no preparations in hand to avert a humanitarian crisis if more people flee in future, Ahadi added.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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