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Top UN refugee official appeals for international help to Afghan civilians

Top UN refugee official appeals for international help to Afghan civilians

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today appealed to the international community to live up to its promises to help civilians in Afghanistan, and called on neighbouring countries to open their borders to fleeing Afghans.

"As the military effort to fight terrorism enters its second month, we need to underscore the commitment made by coalition leaders to the Afghan people that this war is not against them, and that the humanitarian effort will remain a priority," Ruud Lubbers said in a statement issued in Geneva.

Noting that humanitarian relief was growing more urgent as winter set in, the High Commissioner pointed out that continuing insecurity was hampering efforts to help the hundreds of thousands of people who had fled their homes.

With neighbouring borders officially closed, "many desperate Afghans have nowhere to turn," he said.

Mr. Lubbers said the refugee agency was examining how to continue and perhaps even expand its programmes inside Afghanistan, where UNHCR works with over 100 small non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Since 1988, it has helped more than 4.6 million Afghans to return home.

Acknowledging the "enormous refugee burden" being borne by Afghanistan neighbours, Mr. Lubbers noted that "some progress" had been made with Pakistani authorities in making camps available to those who had entered the country through back roads and mountain paths.

While some makeshift camps have been established inside Afghanistan near the borders with both Iran and Pakistan, Mr. Lubbers said the agency had "serious concerns" over the security of those sites, which were located in both Taliban and Northern Alliance territory.