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Aid Airlift Begins to Uzbekistan - 2001-11-11

The U.N. refugee agency has begun an emergency airlift of thousands of tents and plastic sheets into the Uzbekistan capital, Termez. The UNHCR says it plans six more airlifts of goods in coming days from Peshawar, Pakistan, for possible use inside Afghanistan.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says gains reportedly made by the Northern Alliance forces against the Taleban might be a boost to humanitarian efforts. He says the road from Termez to Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan - reportedly taken from the Taleban over the weekend - is much better than any other entry point from the north.

Mr. Redmond says the road would go a long way in providing assistance for hundreds of thousands of needy Afghans. "We are working with other U.N. agencies and with Uzbek authorities to look at the possibilities of cross-border operations," he explained. "And, of course with what is happening inside Afghanistan now, that looks like it could be closer to reality. But, it certainly does depend on the security situation inside. So, we are watching that very closely."

The UNHCR has been pre-positioning tons of humanitarian supplies throughout the region for the past two months in anticipation of a mass exodus of Afghan refugees. But that has not materialized because Pakistan and Iran have closed their borders to the Afghans.

But tens of thousands of refugees have managed to cross over into Pakistan, legally and illegally. And Mr. Redmond says some progress is being made in efforts to help those who have made it to Pakistan.

Sunday, the U.N. refugee agency began transferring thousands of vulnerable Afghans from a border crossing in Pakistan's southern Baluchistan Province to a new refugee camp.

During the coming days, Mr. Redmond says more than 3,600 vulnerable people will be moved to the Roghani camp. He says it is imperative they be moved away from the border.

"The site itself, at the border, is right on the border. It is not a secure site. The refugees themselves are uncomfortable there and we do not have enough space in there to keep expanding that place anyway. So, what we are doing now is moving these people 16 kilometers inland. It will also free up more space in that staging site at the border so more vulnerable people can come across and receive medical help if that is what they need. And, many of them do," said Mr. Redmond.

In all, the UNHCR has established 11 new sites that can receive up to 150,000 refugees. Mr. Redmond says the agency plans to start moving tens of thousands of refugees to these camps by midweek.