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UN Refugee Agency: Pakistan Will Permit Inflow of More Refugees - 2001-10-30

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, says Pakistan has agreed to allow more of the most needy Afghan refugees to cross the border. He also says he plans to meet with the Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan in order to urge him to ensure the safety of U.N. refugee aid workers.

The U.N. official said he will have a clear message in upcoming talks with the Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef. "Don't loot our property. Respect our people, don't fret them and let them do their work," he said. "Don't destroy our network - on the contrary, give signals that that work is respected. That is my main message. Then I'll listen to him," he said.

In recent weeks, U.N. officials have complained of a decline in law and order in Afghanistan. They say aid work has been hindered by attacks on agency offices by armed groups, which they say often include members of the Taleban.

Mr. Lubbers met with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf Monday, to discuss his country's reluctance to allow more Afghan refugees into the country. The United Nations has been urging Pakistan to open its borders, but Islamabad has refused, saying it is overburdened by more than three million Afghans already in the country. But Mr. Lubbers said there must be a middle ground.

"I understand from his perspective that he cannot accept a flood of Afghans coming in. I accept that point," he said. "But if he makes public statements, for those people really in need, we are human beings... Then you have to practice it, and it's going too slow at this moment. We really have to facilitate those who are badly in need."

The border will remain shut, but Mr. Lubbers said the two did agree to allow more at-risk refugees to cross over and to speed up the process. He said the president also agreed to give assurances to refugees, who have slipped into Pakistan illegally, that they will not be deported if they turn up at the camps.

Mr. Lubbers said the agency is working with the government to set up new camps that will soon be able to house up to 300,000 needy Aghans.