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UNHCR: No Major New Refugee Movements Since Attacks Began - 2001-10-09

The U.N. refugee agency says there has been no significant movement of refugees toward Pakistan and other neighboring countries since the United States began military attacks against terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan's border with Afghanistan remains officially closed, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says refugees keep trickling in at a rate of several hundred people a day. He says there has been no surge of refugees since the United States and Britain began attacks against Taleban installations in Afghanistan. Mr. Janowski says UNHCR monitors have not reported any large groups of people massing on the Afghan side of the border trying to get into Pakistan.

"We do not know actually why there are no people arriving at the border in large numbers," said Mr. Janowski. "One explanation could be an increased presence of the Taleban in the border area, which could prevent people from crossing the border or scare them off."

The U.N. refugee agency says it is continuing to build up stocks of tents, plastic sheets, blankets, and other goods in Pakistan's border areas despite a precarious security situation. Mr. Janowski says U.N. foreign workers are not able to move around freely, making it very difficult for them to work. He says work on four refugee campsites in Quetta and Peshawar has stalled, following violent demonstrations that began Monday. "These four sites probably would have been good enough to take thousands of people at best," he said. "But, if we had a huge number of people arriving under the current circumstances, with the current security and the current possibilities to accommodate people, it would become extremely difficult."

In a related development, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, is on his way to Qatar where he will address a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He will be discussing humanitarian efforts and appealing for assistance for refugees in the Afghanistan region.

Mr. Janowski says there have been some offers of help. But, considering the wealth of the Gulf States, he says the amount of money received from them is minimal.