Afghanistan + 1 more

Pakistan: Dispute endangers thousands of Afghan refugees

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ISLAMBAD, 4 February (IRIN) - International aid agencies have expressed concern over supplies to thousands of Afghan refugees in camps in southwestern Pakistan, following a blockade by landlords in protest at the employment of security guards at the camp, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"Our main concern is that food, water and sanitation supplies are being interrupted, putting people's lives at stake," senior media and communications officer for the US-based Mercy Corps NGO, Cassandra Nelson told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad on Tuesday.

Landlords in the area stopped NGOs providing assistance from entering the camps on 21 January following a dispute over the employment of security staff at the facilities. Some 68,000 Afghans are living in four camps, Rogani, Landee Karez, Dara 1 and Dara 2 situated on Pakistan's Chaman border with Afghanistan.

The camps were established for those who fled the US-led bombing in eastern Afghanistan following the events of 11 September 2001. However, the camps have often been described as miserable, with thousands of asylum seekers living in tents on the desert-like land in exposed conditions.

Mercy Corps has been able to continue operating health services at Dara 1 and Dara 2 camps and are receiving referrals from other camps. "The health situation is critical without these services on offer," she added.

"We are only allowed to do emergency screening and we are concerned over the health of the refugees," programme coordinator for Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (MSF) for Chaman and Spin Boldak, Jose Hulsenbek, told IRIN from the southwestern city of Quetta. MSF staff was forced to leave the camp by the landlords.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also expressed concern over refugee security. "We do not have access to the camps and our main concern is over protection issues," spokesman for UNHCR, Jack Redden, told IRIN in Islamabad.

Redden said that some agencies had negotiated the delivery of some food and water to the camps, but that supplies were not regular. He maintained that the dispute was between the landlords and Pakistan's Commission for Afghan Refugees (CAR). "We know they are still in discussions but the issues have not been resolved," he said. "There are lives at risk here and this dispute needs to be resolved immediately," Nelson warned.

[ENDS]

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