3,500 Afghans enter Pakistan under 'chaotic' conditions: UN refugee agency

3,500 Afghans enter Pakistan under 'chaotic' conditions: UN refugee agency

Afghan refugee children at Jalozai camp near Peshawar
In what may be the largest one-day exodus since the start of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, more than 3,500 Afghans entered Pakistan in "chaotic" conditions, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), people were apparently fleeing in panic, arriving at the Chaman border crossing without food or belongings. The influx Friday comes on top of some 10,000 people who have arrived in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province over the past six days.

"The new arrivals report fleeing heavy bombardments in Kandahar overnight and this morning," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva.

The UN agency was asking Pakistani authorities for permission to provide water and food to the new arrivals at Chaman, where UNHCR has already stationed a water tanker. "It is somewhat worrisome to see this number of people coming across," Mr. Redmond said at a news briefing. "We don't know if it is going to continue, but this is by far the largest number of people we're aware of thus far."

With the long-awaited influx of refugees apparently under way, Mr. Redmond again called on donors to contribute to the relief effort. He said UNHCR had not received any additional cash contributions since 8 October, with only half of the pledged $24 million donated so far.

"Lots of promises, but where's the money?" Mr. Redmond said, noting that the agency estimated it needed $50 million in a first phase to take care of up to 400,000 new arrivals, primarily in Pakistan and Iran.

Meanwhile, the 11th UNHCR airlift into Pakistan arrived Friday morning in Quetta with more than 10,000 blankets and some 6,200 plastic tarpaulins, the agency said. A second flight to Quetta was expected in the coming days, bringing plastic sheets, registration materials, and large tent structures known as "Rubbhalls" that can serve as moveable warehouses.

Although UNHCR and its partners are rushing to ready the Darra and Roghani camp sites near Quetta for a possible new influx of refugees, the task is being made difficult because workers "have been tip-toeing around hundreds of live Soviet-era anti-tank mines and bombs" that litter the area, Mr. Redmond said.