Afghanistan + 1 more

Pakistan: UNHCR appeals for peaceful camp closure after Balochistan camp unrest

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ISLAMABAD, 17 May 2007 - The UN refugee agency has expressed concern over yesterday's unrest at a camp in south-western Pakistan, appealed for a calm and orderly resolution ahead of government closure next month.

The incident happened at Jungle Pir Alizai camp in Killa Abduallah district of Balochistan province on Wednesday morning. Local authorities said they were bulldozing some walls of an uninhabited compound in the camp as a first step toward closing it, when camp residents started stoning them in protest. Tear gas was fired, after which the authorities withdrew from the scene.

UNHCR cannot confirm any refugee deaths or casualties as the agency was not present at the scene and has not been able to access Jungle Pir Alizai camp since mid-2005 - a year after the Pakistan government first announced that the camp would be closed for security reasons. After three years of delay, the authorities set the final deadline of 15 June 2007 for the camp to be completely closed.

A government of Pakistan and UNHCR conducted census in 2005 counted some 35,479 Afghans living in the camp. Only 17,844 opted to be registered in a countrywide registration campaign from October 2006 to February 2007. Many of the inhabitants claim to be from the local tribes in Pakistan. Afghans affected by the closure of the camp have been given two choices - to voluntarily repatriate with UNHCR assistance, or to relocate to the existing Ghazgai Minara camp in Balochistan's Loralai district, where they can benefit from primary education, basic healthcare, water and sanitation facilities.

Jungle Pir Alizai camp is one of four camps scheduled for closure in 2007, as agreed at the 12th Tripartite Commission meeting between the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR. The other three camps are Girdi Jungle, Katchagari and Jalozai. Together, they host more than 220,000 Afghans, who have been informed about the impending closure through frequent shura meetings between the Afghan elders, the authorities and UNHCR and through a mass information campaign.

"We regret the outbreak of violence at Jungle Pir Alizai camp," said UNHCR's Representative in Pakistan, Guenet Guebre-Christos. "While we recognize the government's right to close camps on its soil for security reasons, we also urge the authorities and Afghans to do so in a peaceful way, to preserve the goodwill that has developed between them over the last 27 years."

She added that UNHCR was lending its good offices to offer a way out through voluntary repatriation with enhanced assistance averaging $100 per person, or relocation with transport to and reception facilities at an existing camp in Pakistan.

"As remaining in the camp marked for closure is not an option, we strongly appeal to Afghans that they should avail the opportunity either to relocate to an existing refugee camp or chose voluntary repatriation with UNHCR assistance," she emphasised.

More than 3 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR assistance since 2002. Over 2.15 million registered Afghans remain in Pakistan today.

For more information, please contact: Babar Baloch, +92 300 501 7939