Afghanistan: Returning Refugees Halted By Fighting
Afghanistan: UN Convoys Of Returning Refugees Halted By Fighting In West
At least 13,000 Afghans returning home from Iran have become stranded on the border or in an overcrowded transit camp because of fighting this week in western Afghanistan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today as he spotlighted fears about the country’s security situation.
Ruud Lubbers is particularly concerned that the outbreak of violence, which forced the agency on Tuesday to suspend its daily convoys of returnees from Iran, has coincided with a surge in the number of refugees wanting to return home, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said.
Briefing reporters in Geneva, where the agency has its headquarters, Mr. Redmond said about 9,500 returnees are living at a transit camp in the western city of Heart, close to the scene of this week’s fighting between troops of the province governor and militias loyal to a rival leader. The camp is designed to house only 4,000 people.
Another 3,500 refugees remain on the Iranian side of the border, waiting for UNHCR officials to determine it is safe for more returnees to arrive in Heart.
The agency’s assistance to refugees return to Afghanistan from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan began in April 2002, and more than 3.6 million people have made the journey since then – including nearly 1 million from Iran.
Mr. Redmond said there has been a recent increase in the pace of returns from Iran, with as many as 4,000 people arriving every day.
Starting today, UNHCR hopes to gradually bring in the arrivals stranded at the border with Iran, with full convoys scheduled to resume on Sunday.
On Afghanistan, Mr. Lubbers is alarmed that continuing violence there is placing constraints on humanitarian workers, and noted that the offices of the Afghan electoral authority (jointly run by the UN and Afghan authorities) in Farah province, in the country’s southwest, was attacked with a series of explosive devices last night. UN staff are reported to be unhurt but seven Afghan police officers were wounded in the attack, two seriously. An investigation is now underway.