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UNHCR: Exodus from Afghan Cities Difficult - 2001-09-18


The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says thousands of people trying to flee Afghan cities are being hampered by lack of transportation and obstacles put in their way by the Taleban ruling authority.

The U.N. refugee agency says tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan have been on the move for several days. It says most of them have been leaving cities for rural areas where they believe they will be safer from potential attack.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says the number of Afghans leaving Afghanistan's principle cities - Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad - is decreasing. "The movement is becoming more difficult because transportation is very difficult to obtain and quite expensive, and also there are apparently Taleban checkpoints on the roads, especially leading to Pakistan," he said. "Only people with passports are allowed through these checkpoints. A lot of people do not have documents, do not have passports. We have got reports of about 5,000 Afghans on the Afghan side of the border, very close to the Pakistani side of the border, near Quetta."

Mr. Janowski says the UNHCR is trying to persuade Pakistani authorities to let Afghans enter the country.

Pakistan already hosts 2 million Afghan refugees. It has sealed off its borders to discourage more refugees from coming. Mr. Janowski says the UNHCR is asking Pakistan to let new arrivals stay in existing camps, which have adequate water and other facilities.

Since all U.N. foreign aid workers have left Afghanistan, Mr. Janowski says the refugee agency is depending on the remaining local staff for information. "They report that there is a lot of anxiety," said Kris Janowski. "There is a lot of tension and basically lack of information, especially in the west of the country, and that people essentially are trying to leave the cities and get themselves and their families out of harm's way. They seem to believe that the cities will somehow be more vulnerable than the countryside."

The UNHCR is increasing its emergency measures because of the present crisis. Mr. Janowski says the agency has sent several experienced emergency managers to Pakistan where planning meetings are taking place. He says it is sending two-thousand tents to Quetta to house the 5,000 Afghans massed at the border. He says the UNHCR has enough tents in stock for more than 50,000 people.

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