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Refugee Camps in Mazar-i-Sharif to Close

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says it plans to close all 19 camps for internally displaced people in the Mazar-i-Sharif area of northern Afghanistan. The Geneva-based IOM says it is closing the camps because most of the people there are not truly homeless.

The International Organization for Migration says about 90,000 people living in the 19 camps are, in fact, homeless. It says the rest, an estimated 180,000 people, have set up fake tents in the camps to receive assistance.

IOM spokeswoman Niurka Pineiro says the real internally displaced people (IDPs) will be resettled into one transit center. They will stay there until they are able to return to their villages. She says the others who live close to the camps will be obliged to go to their homes. "So these are the people who are not real IDPs," she explained, "which is not to say they are not desperate and hungry. But they are from the immediate area. They live three, four, five kilometers away. So we are trying to get those people to go home, bring assistance to their homes, so we can deal with the people who live far away who do need our assistance back home."

Ms. Pineiro says vulnerable families from urban areas come to the IDP camps. They set up makeshift shelters hoping to receive humanitarian assistance.

She notes that international organizations stopped providing food to the urban poor after the September 11 terrorist attacks. She says this put these people in a desperate state, and they looked for help in the camps. "But the main concern is that these people who are coming to these camps are not IDPs," she reiterated. "And they are also causing disruption when we do distributions, and it also causes corruption if you like, because some of the people in the camps call themselves bosses. They get money from these people so they can set up shelters, temporary shelters. Just two sticks with a piece of cloth. But if someone is in that shelter, then they are there and they receive assistance."

Ms. Pineiro says she hopes these problems will end once the camps are dismantled.

The IOM and other aid groups plan to distribute 2,000 tons of wheat to poor people in their homes in the coming days. Also, the World Food Program plans to provide food to 48,000 families.