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UN: Pakistan Refuses Refugees

February 9, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan is refusing to accommodate a new wave of Afghan refugees fleeing a devastating drought and civil war, the United Nations refugee body said Friday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Pakistan refused its request to provide a new site for refugee camps for thousands of Afghans who have crossed the border in recent months.

About 170,000 Afghan refugees have poured into Pakistan since September. The government says they are a drain on the country’s already fragile economy and scant resources.

``The refugees cause extreme socio-economic problems,″ Moinuddin Haider, Pakistan’s interior minister, said Thursday after a two-day visit to Afghanistan.

Pakistan, the staunchest ally of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, wants international aid groups to set up camps inside Afghanistan.

``The Taliban leaders have agreed in principle that camps should be set up in Afghanistan. We appeal to the United Nations and international donors to help Afghans,″ Haider said.

Two makeshift U.N. refugee camps in northwestern Pakistan are overcrowded and lack adequate sanitation facilities and drinking water. Most refugees live in flimsy cloth-and-plastic tents that offer little protection from freezing weather.

``It is now so crowded and so desperate that it is virtually impossible to distribute aid there without provoking a desperate and possibly life-threatening stampede,″ the UNHCR said.

Afghanistan, impoverished after two decades of civil war, has been hit by its worst drought in 30 years. Thousands of displaced people are living in camps within Afghanistan, and hundreds have died of cold and hunger this month.

Many of the refugees have fled to escape fighting and fear of persecution by the Taliban, who control 95 percent of Afghanistan and espouse a harsh brand of Islamic law. The Taliban are fighting an opposition alliance based in the north.

A U.N. officials said Pakistan had hindered efforts to ask the refugees there why they fled Afghanistan

``We started a survey to find out reasons for refugees’ flight, but Pakistan stopped that,″ UNHCR spokesman Yusuf Hassan said.

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