Top UN refugee official urges open borders in talks with Iran's President

31 October 2001
Ruud Lubbers

As part of his ongoing efforts to encourage Afghanistan's neighbours to open their borders to fleeing Afghans, the head of the United Nations refugee agency held talks today with the President of Iran and other senior government officials.

During discussions with President Khatami in Tehran, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers acknowledged Iran's security concerns relating to a possible influx of Afghan refugees but urged the country to be more flexible on the border issue. President Khatami reiterated Iran's insistence that Afghans be helped in camps on the Afghan side of the border.

Meanwhile, close to the Afghan border, medical workers at the Killi Faizo staging camp have seen an increasing number of sick and malnourished people, UNHCR said. Four of the most severe cases - all female - were referred to Quetta hospital. Various other refugees arriving over the past couple of days said they had fled because of the bombing, and one 60-year old man told UNHCR that he had lost his entire family when his house was destroyed.

Inside Afghanistan, the Taliban have reportedly seized the UNHCR field office in Spin Boldak, where the health situation is "deteriorating rapidly," the agency said. Severe malnutrition and dysentery among children was reported, while at least 100 of the camp's approximately 3,000 residents were sleeping in the open with no aid at all.

Refugees who make it out of Spin Boldak allege that the Taliban are actively preventing people from leaving Afghanistan, including those who need urgent medical attention. "UNHCR has repeatedly expressed concern about the Spin Boldak camp, where those trying to flee are deprived of sufficient aid, vulnerable to forcible recruitment by the Taliban, and are positioned too close to military positions for comfort," the agency said.

 

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