UN refugee agency begins clearing controversial Afghan camp in Pakistan

30 June 2003
UNHCR worker registers Afghan refugees

The United Nations refugee agency today began clearing a controversial makeshift camp just inside the Pakistani border where nearly 20,000 Afghan refugees had been stranded since early 2002 in an area insecure and rife with smugglers.

The first 800 Afghan refugees were taken to new sites inside Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it could take up to two months of daily truck convoys to relocate the nearly 19,000 people who have registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to move. After that, the agency has told residents it will not assist the small number who might remain.

UNHCR and the two governments had long sought to close the "waiting area," a settlement at Chaman that had been considered insecure ever since it was created by asylum seekers when Pakistan closed its borders to new refugee arrivals in February 2002.

The decision to close the area, which was not a recognised refugee camp where UNHCR could provide full assistance, was taken in May at the first meeting of the Tripartite Commission, a body set up under an agreement by Afghanistan, Pakistan and UNHCR to set policy on the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees until 2005.

The "waiting area" had always been considered unsuitable for a refugee camp. It was on a smuggling route, and the lack of security was underlined in the past month when the bodies of 22 fighters killed in a nearby battle with Afghan government troops were dumped in the centre of the refugee settlement.

Overall well over 2 million Afghans have returned since the start of organized repatriation in March 2002, but more than that number are still believed to remain in Pakistan and Iran.


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