UN refugee agency reports continued exodus from Afghanistan's cities

UN refugee agency reports continued exodus from Afghanistan's cities

Tens of thousands of residents of cities in Afghanistan are continuing to leave for rural areas throughout the mountainous country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.

In a humanitarian update released from the agency's Geneva headquarters, UNHCR said residents were leaving the principal towns of Kandahar and Kabul, headed for villages.

Officials of the Taliban are slowing the flow of people across the Pakistani border. "Taliban guards are reportedly allowing only Afghans bearing passports to reach the frontier, which severely limits the movement of people into Pakistan," UNHCR said.

The situation in other parts of Afghanistan remains grim. "In Afghanistan's western city of Herat, the atmosphere is tense and residents are reportedly confused about developments in the country, where people are so impoverished that even radios and batteries are in short supply and television is banned."

UNHCR is holding discussions with the Government of Pakistan in the hopes that it will allow some 5,000 Afghans at the Charman border crossing to enter the country. The agency is asking the authorities to allow any new arrivals to be sheltered in existing camps, where they have access to adequate water and other facilities. UNHCR has also sent thousands of tents to Pakistan as an emergency measure.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, says it has enough food in Afghanistan for two to three weeks, but the departure of staff from the country has hampered the distribution effort. Replenishing the stocks also presents a problem, as trucking companies are unwilling to enter Afghanistan.