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UNHCR Appeals for Aid to Help Afghan Refugees - 2001-09-21

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is mounting a relief operation for Afghans who manage to flee their homeland into neighboring countries. The UNHCR is appealing for $6 million to cover immediate emergency needs.

Thousands of Afghans are trying to get out of Afghanistan before any possible military strikes in retaliation for the terrorist attacks against the United States. But, the U.N. refugee agency says all countries surrounding Afghanistan have closed their borders to keep out the refugees.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says the agency is concerned by scenes of desperate people being pushed back from the borders. "We understand that a lot of people are moving away from the normal border crossing points," he says. "They are going into the more remote rural areas and are crossing borders elsewhere. Because of that, we do not have firm figures on the numbers that have come across."

Because of the worsening humanitarian crisis, the UNHCR is mounting a huge emergency relief operation. The agency says it has ordered 20,000 tents in Pakistan. And next week it will fly plastic shelter materials to Pakistan from Denmark, where it has stockpiles for one million people.

Mr. Redmond says the Japanese government also will be airlifting stocks of relief supplies. Furthermore, he says that in the coming days, 25 emergency officers will join UNHCR's existing staff of more than 150 people in Pakistan. "These emergency teams are composed of people who have been especially trained and have gone through emergency management training courses," Mr. Redmond says. "They come from UNHCR offices worldwide and they are called up often within 72 hours from wherever they are in the world and have to deploy to an emergency situation. They will be in addition to some emergency coordinators that we have already dispatched. They went out last week."

Mr. Redmond says the emergency officers will remain in the field for at least two months. He says Pakistani authorities have finalized plans to re-open 80 former refugee camps in the North West Frontier Province. He notes these camps could shelter about 800,000 newly arrived Afghan refugees.

Mr. Redmond says there are signs that Pakistani authorities in Quetta, in Baluchistan Province, will allow the UNHCR to establish new camps near the border.