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UN worried by Pakistan border closure

The UN Coordinator for Afghanistan on Friday expressed concern about the potential humanitarian impact of the continued closure of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Erick de Mul said in a press statement that Pakistan served as an ultimate safety net for Afghans confronted with extreme insecurity due to conflict or economic distress because of drought, and that Afghanistan would face an increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) if the border were to remain closed.

Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan on Thursday 9 November, saying it was unable to absorb some 30,000 refugees who had arrived in the past two months, as well as thousands more expected in the coming weeks. According to Pakistani officials, some two million Afghans are currently living in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Minister for Northern Regions Abbas Sarfraz Khan said the move was intended to regulate the influx of people from Afghanistan, and to ensure that refugee status was given only to those who were “genuinely displaced”. Pakistan has also expressed concern that many of the recent arrivals were economic migrants attracted by work opportunities, and not genuine refugees.

“If people are forced to leave their homes to survive, they have the right to decide where their best chance for survival rests,” De Mul said in Friday’s press statement. “We are especially concerned about Afghan minorities, who may be denied their right to asylum as a result of this border closure,” he added.

There are currently about 200,000 IDPs in Afghanistan, including those displaced by conflict in 1999, according to UN estimates. With no local authorities to provide assistance for the displaced, they depended on the local population and the assistance community for support. However, Afghan host communities are increasingly impoverished themselves and relief agencies are struggling to cope, with just under half of funding needs met so far this year, according to Friday’s statement from the UN.

Some 11,000 Afghan families have been displaced as a result of conflict in the northeast of the country, and the UN was assisting tens of thousands of IDPs in northeastern, western, central and southern Afghanistan, de Mul said.

Joint UN-NGO missions which took place from 11 to 13 November from Tajikistan to assess reports of additional displaced people on islands between it and Afghanistan had found some 11,400 displaced people, living in makeshift shelters, his statement said. Further in-depth assessments would be required to determine whether or not assistance was needed, it added.

Tajikistan is also suffering from the effects of severe drought, and it remains unclear whether or not Afghan refugees will be allowed to enter Tajikistan - if fighting in northeastern Afghanistan causes the need to arise - following the government’s decision in mid-September to seal its border with Afghanistan, the UN stated.

Tajikistan is a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the closure of its borders with Afghanistan violates its obligations under the treaty.

Erick de Mul on Friday called on all countries neighbouring Afghanistan to act in accordance with international humanitarian law.

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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