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IDP camps considered as Pakistan closes border

A UN taskforce is to assess the humanitarian needs of the new internally displaced population which has gathered in Jalalabad and eastern areas of Afghanistan leading to the Torkham border post with Pakistan, as a result of the border closure announced by the Pakistani government last week.

UNHCR chief of mission for Afghanistan Ahmad Farah told IRIN on Thursday that the assessment would determine whether or not the refugee agency would act on Pakistan’s call for it to establish camps for the displaced inside Afghanistan, in order to stem the flow of Afghan refugees into Pakistan.

The authorities in Pakistan closed entry points along the country’s western border with Afghanistan on Thursday 9 November, claiming an inability to absorb some 30,000 refugees who had arrived in the past two months as well as thousands more expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Farah said he had spoken with UN Coordinator for Afghanistan Erick de Mul, and that the matter would be presented to a taskforce on internally-displaced people (IDPs) for consideration and assessment. “Only then, once we know numbers and needs, will we move to develop camps or to rejuvenate IDP camps that have been abandoned or are sparsely populated,” he added.

The UN and non-governmental agencies (NGOs) “hesitated” to set up IDP camps at random and has been “assisting IDPs in their situation so as to prevent outflows and to encourage speedy return to their places of origin”, Farah said. However, UNHCR would be “inclined to assist the newly-created IDPs who might be found in Jalalabad [capital of Nangarhar province, in the east], and between there and the Torkham border, as a result of this closure,” he added. Farah stressed that this was not an emergency situation at this time.

The UN community in Jalalabad has undertaken a mission to the border to interview people to determine if they were genuine IDPs. The majority of the displaced, between 200 and 500 families or up to 3500 individuals, are spread out within Jalabad. Despite the numbers, there was “no exertion of pressure right now” on the part of the displaced, Farah said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Government Minister for Northern Regions Abbas Sarfraz Khan, said in a statement released to IRIN on Thursday that the authorities had closed the border in a bid to try and regulate the population flow, and ensure that refugee status was given only to those who were
“genuinely displaced”. There were concerns that many of the recent arrivals from Afghanistan were economic migrants attracted to Pakistan by work opportunities, he said.

As well as urging the UN refugee agency to establish IDP camps inside Afghanistan, Khan called for the repatriation of Afghan refugees as the only viable solution to the refugee problem that existed inside Pakistan.
It was the responsibility of the international community and the Taliban movement [which controls up to 95 percent of Afghan territory] to assist in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan, Khan said.

UNHCR was forced to suspend assisted repatriation from Pakistan to Afghanistan on 2 November because of financial constraints. Despite a target of returning 100,000 Afghan refugees this year, only 70,000 have so far been repatriated from Pakistan, according to UNHCR statistics.

A senior spokesman at the Taliban’s embassy in Islamabad told IRIN on Thursday that the movement supported the idea of establishing camps for the displaced inside Afghanistan so that “people’s problems will be solved inside the country instead of outside.” He urged the UN to provide alternative [income-generation[ projects for Afghan people who were seeking refuge in Pakistan due to widespread poverty and a ban on poppy cultivation.

The Taliban official denied reports that the recent influx into Pakistan was the result of intensified fighting in the north between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. “If these people were coming from Takhar province [in the northeast] because of war, they should have gone to other areas where there is peace and security like Mazar [Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh province in the north] and Kunduz [province, beside Takhar in the northeast]. Most are coming because of serious drought, not war,” he said.

“We have more than one million acres of land that is not cultivated because of lack of proper canal systems and irrigation. If the UN cooperates with us, then the people will not come to Pakistan or turn to poppy cultivation,” he told IRIN.

The spokesman said that the Taliban was doing what it could to help the Afghan people on a “very meagre budget”. In the Afghan capital Kabul, it had helped reestablish about 400 small factories destroyed during the Soviet war, but more assistance was needed to develop revenue-generating industries like shoe and clothing manufacturing.

Commenting on Pakistan’s closure of border crossing points, the Taliban official said his movement was in discussions with the authorities there and was “awaiting a positive solution” to the issue.

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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