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UNHCR resumes work in NWFP following vehicle attack

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has resumed operations in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) following an attack on a UN vehicle during a polio vaccination campaign last week.

"The decision to restart our movement in the NWFP was taken following a number of discussions with the UN security, local authorities and police," Ahmed Warsame, a UNHCR senior programme officer, told IRIN from the NWFP capital, Peshawar, on Thursday.

The incident, on 23 July, in which two World Health Organisation (WHO) workers narrowly escaped when their vehicle was shot at on the outskirts of Peshawar, prompted the WHO, UNHCR and World Food Programme (WFP) to suspend field trips in the area. It also led to the suspension of the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.

In order to ensure the safety of aid workers, the Pakistani government has requested to be informed of all fields trip well in advance, requiring 36 hours notice for both national and international staff travelling, which UNHCR officials say could slow down their efforts.

"Repatriation programmes are generally complex and require immediate and rapid intervention, particularly with health problems such as malaria and cholera outbreaks. We need to be able to respond to them and we have a moral responsibility to do that. But we promised them we will try to respect the government's 36 hour notice requirement," Warsame said. To date 355,000 Afghans have returned home this year from neighbouring countries.

He added that flexibility was also needed in repatriating the Afghans, "particularly when we are engaged in Afghan voluntary repatriation from camps to Afghanistan, so we want to be flexible to respond to refugee requests, especially for those who want to return home. We usually operate with mobile teams going to camps on a daily basis."

Other aid agencies working in the area were also updated on the security situation in the province. "Yesterday [Wednesday], we had an NGO/UN coordination meeting here in Peshawar in which we updated them on the situation, so they are also very much aware," Warsame said.

According to Warsame, although the government is still gathering information on the attack, there is no immediate threat to UN or any other humanitarian workers. However, such workers are required to travel with armed escorts to the Tribal Areas where Afghan refugees were living, he said. Several camps were set up on the border following the US-led attacks in Afghanistan in October 2001.

Commenting on the general security situation for expatriates in Peshawar, Warsame said families were now able to live in Peshawar following a change in the security phase, provided they had 24-hour police patrols in their residential areas. "It is a moderate situation. It can go up and change any time, but we think it is a bit more relaxed than it was three months ago," he added.


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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