UN refugee agency reports sharp rise in number of Afghans crossing borders

UN refugee agency reports sharp rise in number of Afghans crossing borders

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reported a sharp rise in the number of Afghans fleeing across borders to neighbouring Pakistan.

Some 8,000 Afghan refugees are believed to have crossed in the Chaman border area alone over the past four days, UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Islamabad.

"Newly arrived refugees in Quetta city report that there are many more vehicles traveling from Kandahar towards the border, with more people trying to take their possessions from Kandahar to Pakistan," he said. "New arrivals are also reporting that a place called Kichla Jadid, to the east of Kandahar city, has been totally destroyed, causing a rush of civilians from this area."

Villagers from Killi Faizo in Malabad district in Kandahar province are also reported to have fled en masse, according to UNHCR.

The agency also warned that the general physical condition of new arrivals is reportedly deteriorating. "The Pakistani authorities continue to allow so-called 'humanitarian cases' to cross for treatment, and there are now two medical facilities, offering at least some basic medical care, operating in Chaman," said Mr. Colville.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the agency was stepping up food deliveries in a race to avoid widespread food shortages in the winter. Executive Director Catherine Bertini said challenges to reaching that goal include worsening security conditions as well as the lack of commercial trucking in rural areas, effective internal communication and a fully functioning distribution capacity.

Speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C., Ms. Bertini said that if the agency could sustain its food deliveries it would have enough supplies in Afghanistan to feed the country's hungriest people. "But nothing is guaranteed, and if there are serious impediments then we could be looking at a humanitarian catastrophe," she warned.

WFP also reported that the Taliban has taken over its food warehouses in Kabul and Kandahar. The agency plans to bypass those warehouses while continuing to supply food directly to the needy population.

In a related development, a UN spokesman announced today that Kenzo Oshima, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will travel to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan from 22 to 27 October. Mr. Oshima's trip to the region, which comes at the request of the Secretary-General, will focus on discussions with government officials on ways to enhance cooperation in delivering humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.