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UNHCR: Afghans Being Moved to Border Camps - 2002-01-18

The United Nations refugee agency says Friday it has begun moving Afghan refugees from a no man's land on the Afghan side of the border to camps within Pakistan. Refugees have been pouring into the area for weeks, but the Pakistani authorities had been refusing to allow them to enter the country.

The U.N. refugee agency said that it already has moved 2,600 Afghans from the border area to U.N. run camps inside Pakistan. Peter Kessler of the UNHCR says the agency acted quickly after Pakistani authorities approved the relocation on Tuesday. The refugee official said the agency plans to bring in thousands of people each day to the camps.

Some of these people have been living in very difficult conditions for weeks now, and need to be gotten out of the [Non Governmental Organizations] and other care provided," he said.

Mr. Kessler estimates there are over 13,000 Afghan refugees in the border areas of southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said the vast majority of them came there to avoid fighting and instability in the region around Kandahar, one of the last holdouts of the Taleban.

Mr. Kessler said that UNHCR has re-started its work in Kandahar, and is assisting some 20,000 people there.

"This will help, we think, to stabilize the situation, and eventually lead, we believe, to the end for people to try to escape into Pakistan, if they have enough aid in that area," he said.

Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration says it has begun a program to help Afghans return to their country. Organization officials say that, so far, more that 1,500 Afghans, 20 percent of them women, have signed up with IOM's return program.

IOM spokeswoman Niurka Pineiro has said many of them are people who want to help revive Afghanistan's cultural life.

"One includes a lady who is working as a hairdresser in the state of Virginia in the U S. But she is trained as a theater person. She is going back to, hopefully, restore the theater in Kabul. We also have a man who is working in university in Germany. He is an orientalist. He is going back to run the archeology preservation and restoration department of that ministry. Two are journalists, and will be working with the Afghan news agency," she said.

Ms. Pineiro said Afghanistan's interim government is welcoming all qualified Afghans to return home to help rebuild their country.