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UN Refugee Agency Says Afghans Continue to Flee - 2001-10-26

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says Afghans are continuing to flee their homeland because they fear they might be forced to join the Taleban or opposition Northern Alliance forces. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about a possible outbreak of malaria near the eastern Afghan town of Jalalabad.

The UNHCR is appealing once again for open borders for the refugees who fear forced conscription by either the Taleban or the Northern Alliance.

Spokesman Chris Janowski says the UNHCR has received reports that 100 or more families fled from the northern Afghan area around Mazar-e-Sharif because they feared forced conscription. They have sought shelter, but are still on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan.

Mr. Janowski says the United Nations is concerned they might be forced to serve in a military force. "That's why it is very important for people who are trying to flee Afghanistan not to be stuck in some camps inside Afghanistan where they can be approached or forced into recruitment but that these people be allowed to flee to neighboring countries, to Pakistan and Iran," he says.

The United Nations estimates that about 2,000 people are arriving daily at the Chaman border point with Pakistan. More than 400 people, considered by the U.N. as the most vulnerable, are being housed in the U.N. refugee agency's temporary tent site two kilometers inside Pakistan's border.

The head of the refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers, is heading to Pakistan and Iran to oversee operations ahead of a possible large scale influx of Afghans.

The World Health Organization says it providing medical assistance to Afghans inside the country and to fleeing refugees. A spokeswoman for the WHO, Jennifer Tierney says a potentially dangerous form of malaria seems to be appearing around the eastern Afghan town of Jalalabad. "We have received reports of malaria outbreaks that are being investigated," she says. "So far, there are no reported deaths. The health situation is expected to deteriorate with the onset of winter, so the WHO will be monitoring that situation."

Ms. Tierney says the WHO has medical kits for 10,000 people in Kabul. It also expects medical supplies for 30,000 people being trucked from Pakistan to arrive in Afghanistan soon. The WHO says it is also vaccinating Afghan children for measles as soon as they cross the border.