Citing security concerns, UN refugee agency to close 13 Afghan border camps
"We have to be more assertive, more clear on the need to end, close down certain camps," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers told a news conference in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad yesterday at the end of a nine-day tour of the region. Mr. Lubbers left for Geneva today after also visiting Afghanistan and Iran.
The 13 affected sites are the so-called “new” camps set up set up near the border inside Pakistan to receive people fleeing the war in Afghanistan after the 11 September 2001, attacks on the United States.
Mr. Lubbers said there was a danger forces opposed to the current government in Afghanistan, both from the ousted Taliban regime and the Al-Qaida terror organization, could find sanctuary and recruit people from the border camps.
"We think it's really not good to continue the situation there, it's not good for the people who are living there, it's not good for Pakistan, it's not good for Afghanistan," he said.
There are up to another 1 million Afghans, who fled during 25 years of civil conflict, now living in some 200 "old" camps in Pakistan. Unknown numbers are living elsewhere in Pakistan, for example in urban areas.
Nearly 2 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan since UNHCR started its voluntary repatriation programme in March 2002. This includes some 60,000 who have gone back in the last seven weeks. Returnees receive a travel grant ranging from $3 to $30 depending on their final destination, and an extra $8 instead of food and other assistance provided in previous years.
In all, UNHCR expects about a million Afghans to return home this year, mostly from Pakistan and Iran, but also thousands residing in other states, as well as up to 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).