Pakistan urged to let refugees into camp

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.N. aid officials implored Pakistan on Monday to let more than 13,000 Afghan refugees into a border camp so they can receive aid and protection from the harsh winter.

Meanwhile, the United Nations' World Food Program said it had sent its first international staffer back to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, which had been staffed by locals since just after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

U.N. spokesman Jordan Dey said the refugees had massed in recent days on a wind-swept plain just outside the Kili Faiso camp in Pakistan. Many had been fleeing cold, drought and conflict in Kandahar and the adjacent province of Helmand. Pakistan was denying the refugees permission to enter the camp itself, leaving them stranded near a fence that rings the compound, U.N. officials said.

"They are sleeping out in the open," Dey said. He said some came equipped with tents or plastic sheeting but many had no protection from the elements. High-nutrition food biscuits were being distributed, he said.

Pakistan, which has officially closed its border with Afghanistan, has long said it has all the Afghan refugees it can handle. It has registered 1.2 million, but the real figure is estimated at closer to 2 million.

To the south, in Kandahar, which was the stronghold of the Taliban militia, a World Food Program employee was due late Tuesday to restaff an office destroyed during U.S. airstrikes in October and November.

"It's a sign that the security situation is improving there," Dey said. But, he said, "There's still a lot of volatility in the region."

Refugees have reported that roads out of Kandahar are rife with bandits. Security is "our No. 1 obstacle" in providing aid, Dey said.

Dey also said some remote mountain villages south of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif have been snowed in and are unreachable even by donkey. The hardest-hit towns include Armakh, Abdullah Gan and Baluj.

The WFP plans to venture farther into mountainous areas to find isolated pockets of needy Afghans and has rented every donkey available in the region to carry food over the rugged terrain. More beasts of burden were being sought, and staffers were also traversing the region on horseback.

U.N. Afghanistan envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's spokesman asked donor nations who have pledged aid money to Afghanistan to come through "immediately, not next year."

Spokesman Ahmed Fawzi said getting civil servants paid is crucial to the new government's well-being.

"It is time for the international community to stop talking and start delivering help," Fawzi said. "This country needs millions of dollars tomorrow. Otherwise, there will be no country when the billions are ready."

He said donor nations have agreed to contribute $20 million so far, but as of Dec. 31 only $2 million had actually been handed over. Some 210,000 civil servants and 25,000 police officers have not been paid in months, he said.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials said the reopening of Salang Tunnel, a crucial link to northern Afghanistan, also will help aid reach the north, particularly from the WFP's biggest warehouse in Peshawar, in Pakistan's North West Frontier province.

The tunnel's reopening also will help in the delivery of aid trucked into the capital, Kabul, from the north.

The tunnel, the link between northern and southern Afghanistan, connects two portions of a major highway north of Kabul. It has been closed for two years.

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