The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reported a rise in the number of Afghans being smuggled out of their country through costly illegal channels.
"With borders closed, Afghans with the money are resorting to organized smuggling networks to get them across" borders, UNHCR reported in an update issued at its Geneva headquarters.
The cost for the journey from Kandahar in Afghanistan to Quetta in Pakistan was reportedly $100 for a family of six - "a huge sum in Afghanistan and well beyond the means of most families," the agency said.
UNHCR expressed particular concern about the effect these underground operations would have on minorities, who the agency said "are almost all forced to resort to smugglers and are apparently being charged much more for everything, including transport on both sides of the border."
Meanwhile, the agency reported that work continued on new sites to accommodate an influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan. In the country's North West Frontier Province, for example, the agency is preparing some 15 sites to shelter approximately 150,000 people.
This process has been hampered by a number of obstacles, according to the agency. In one area, called Shalman, residents said that only a much smaller piece of land than expected would be available. "The decision by local elders to restrict the size of the Shalman site greatly reduces UNHCR's options," the agency said, noting that the lack of water and the possibility that the local population may raise further objections "clearly indicate the huge challenges of working in the remote Tribal Areas."