Meeting Pakistani leader, UNHCR chief discusses plight of fleeing Afghans

Meeting Pakistani leader, UNHCR chief discusses plight of fleeing Afghans

High Commissioner Lubbers talks to refugees at Afghan-Pakistan border
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, who has repeatedly called on Afghanistan's neighbours to open their borders to fleeing Afghans, met with the President of Pakistan today to discuss the volatile situation.

"I spoke rather tough with the President because I understand from his perspective that he cannot accept the flood of Afghans coming in," the head of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, told reporters following his meeting with President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Lubbers added that he had asked the Pakistani leader "to see his responsibility for the people here but also on the other side of the border when there is no alternative for them" but to flee.

Mr. Lubbers said the Pakistani leader had asked the agency to concentrate its work in Afghanistan. "The President asked me… can you not be instrumental to provide camps for people who have to flee at the Afghan side of the border," said Mr. Lubbers. "I said to him: we are the humanitarian and we never say immediately 'no,' because we have to be realistic as well."

"If we go for refugee camps in the Taliban-dominated area, which is in process of militarization, we will be very cautious because we cannot go build camps and assist there when they are used for conscription of a forced labour or for a hiding place for those military who need a rest for while before going back to the front," he added.

In a related development, UNHCR reported today that Afghan refugees arriving in Pakistan described the health situation in the makeshift Taliban-controlled camp at Spin Boldak inside Afghanistan as deteriorating rapidly. Those interviewed by UNHCR alleged that the Taliban were preventing people from leaving Afghanistan, including those in need of urgent medical attention.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that over the past two months, more than 32,000 tons of food had been distributed to some 2 million persons in Afghanistan, but that amount represented one third of the needs. Insecurity and a lack of trucks, fuel and personnel were hampering the distribution of the food supplies, the agency said.