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UN Calls Exodus from Afghanistan 'Alarming'

The United Nations refugee agency is expressing concern about the growing number of Afghans trying to flee to Pakistan to escape ethnic persecution and banditry at home. U.N. aid agencies say lawlessness is jeopardizing efforts to help millions of hungry and sick Afghans.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says about 20,000 Afghans are now massed in the border area with Pakistan - a dramatic increase, it says, from 10,000 last Friday.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski calls the exodus from Afghanistan "alarming" and says the new arrivals from the southern area of Kandahar as well as northern provinces report that more Afghans are following behind them.

"People who arrive say they see people walking towards the Pakistani border using carts and tractors (i.e. to get to the Pakistani border). They are being driven out by a number of reasons. Primarily, a very bad security situation, banditry on the roads, but also a complete lack of aid in certain areas of Afghanistan. People coming from the north also saying they are being harassed by opposing or rival ethnic groups and do not feel safe there," he said.

Mr. Janowski says continuing insecurity in large areas of Afghanistan, particularly rural regions, hamper relief reaching a significant portion of the population.

Meanwhile, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, efforts are underway to revamp the Ministry of Women's Affairs. The International Organization of Migration, IOM, reports that a $55,000 grant from the United States will help refurbish ministry offices. The ministry promotes women's rights and access to education, but until recently lacked financial support.

The UN children's agency UNICEF says its back-to-school campaign in Afghanistan is busy with workers putting together school kits at a rate of two a minute. UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte says 1.5 million Afghan children and their teachers must have the basic materials to start the official school year next month.

"In the past, some of the schoolbooks children have had at their disposal have been completely inappropriate: war imagery, tanks, propaganda. There has been a single-minded effort to come up with a proper curriculum - something that Afghans, themselves, would want to teach their children and something that the government in power there would be OK with," she said.

Ms. Belmonte says UNICEF is helping to produce books approved by the Afghan interim government and educators. She says the move heralds a new beginning for education in Afghanistan.