- 6,000 displaced Afghan civilians trapped in fighting in western Afghanistan
- Numbers returning to Afghanistan from Iran remain high
- Unconfirmed reports of thousands arriving in Mohmand Agency in northwest Pakistan
- Transfer from Killi Faizo site in Pakistan to resume Wednesday; security concerns remain
- UNHCR gears up for assistance into Afghanistan
Northern Alliance forces have reportedly surrounded a Taliban-occupied camp for displaced people in southwestern Afghanistan, apparently trapping some 6,000 Afghan civilians inside the site. UNHCR is extremely fearful that the displaced Afghans in Makaki camp, where there are reportedly armed Taliban fighters mixed with the civilian population, could become human shields or hostages. According to the latest reports, Northern Alliance forces have surrounded the camp, which is just a few kilometers from the Iranian border. UNHCR staff at the frontier described the situation on the Afghan side of the border as "volatile." UNHCR is urging restraint from both sides and consideration for the large number of civilians in the camp.
UNHCR is also appealing to the government of Iran to look into the possibility of opening its borders to allow in Afghan civilians from the camp.
This morning, UNHCR staff in the Iranian border town of Zabol rushed to Milak to investigate the reports of overnight fighting in the Afghanistan border town of Zaranj and the nearby village of Makaki, where the camp is located. The reports, still unconfirmed, say Zaranj and the areas immediately south of the town, which include Makaki camp, were taken overnight by Northern Alliance forces. According to eyewitness accounts, there was a short fight between advancing Northern Alliance forces and Taliban troops who have controlled much of Nimruz province, in the southwest of the country. No reports of casualties have so far been received. Staff in the nearest hospital in Zabol, inside Iran, say they have also not received any casualties.
Food and water supplies at the camp are said to be very limited. Aid workers did not report to the camp this morning after hearing reports of the fighting, further heightening UNHCR's fears for the displaced population there.
UNHCR has repeatedly stressed its concerns about the safety of the Makaki site - both for its inhabitants and for aid workers. The concerns have been reinforced by repeated eyewitness accounts of Taliban military presence inside Makaki, as well as the presence of heavy weaponry in the camp. UNHCR has declined to work in the camp as long as the security and protection of the displaced people and aid staff could not be assured. The refugee agency has expressed similar concerns about other camps inside Afghanistan, including the Taliban camp at Spin Boldak, near the Pakistan border crossing of Chaman in southern Baluchistan Province.
Returns from Iran to Northern Afghanistan remain high
The number of people spontaneously returning to Afghanistan from Iran via the northern border crossing of Dogharoun remains high. Over the past three days, 2,649 people have returned: 1,004 on Sunday, 876 on Monday, and 769 on Tuesday.
Returns have continued on a daily basis throughout the crisis, with hundreds going back almost every day, and well over 800 returning daily over the past two weeks. Prior to recent days, people returning reported they wished to go back to be with their families and support them in a difficult situation. Now, returnees say they are no longer motivated by concerns for their family members, but are just happy to be going home.
Should the situation in western Afghanistan remain stable, UNHCR is likely to see an increase in spontaneous returns from Iran, which currently hosts more than 2.3 million Afghan refugees, according to government figures.
Thousands reportedly arriving in northwest Pakistan
There were unconfirmed reports of a significant number of Afghan refugees arriving Tuesday in Mohmand Agency in northwest Pakistan. Some 3,000 people (500 families) reportedly arrived near Dendab. UNHCR was sending field staff to Dendab Wednesday to verify the information and see what the needs of the group are.
Transfer from Pakistan's Killi Faizo site to resume
Late Tuesday, Pakistan authorities gave UNHCR the go-ahead to resume transferring vulnerable Afghans from the Killi Faizo staging site near the Chaman border to Roghani camp further inside Pakistan. Pakistan Frontier Corps troops at Chaman had interrupted the transfer earlier on Tuesday. The green light came too late in the day to move anyone Tuesday, but UNHCR plans to resume convoys Wednesday.
Provincial authorities in Baluchistan Province where the sites are located would like the entire population of Killi Faizo site transferred by the end of the week. Adequate sanitation facilities, particularly latrines, remain a serious constraint in the Roghani camp. UNHCR and its main partners Concern, Oxfam, MSF and Islamic Relief have been erecting tents and establishing services at Roghani, which is located some 16 kilometres from the border area. Staff from OXFAM are working on 20 latrines and expected to finish at least one block on Tuesday. MSF has agreed to assist OXFAM by constructing at least one additional block of latrines. Before the transfer was interrupted, a total of 644 Afghans had been moved to Roghani, including some 400 on Monday.
As of Tuesday morning, there were 718 tents erected at the Killi Faizo transit site, of which 36 are empty following the relocation of the desperate Afghan arrivals to Roghani. UNHCR would like to leave only several dozen tents at the transit site to shelter Afghans seeking safety in Pakistan before they can be shifted to Roghani.
MSF health workers at Killi Faizo continue to treat more than 80 refugees daily, mainly people suffering from various illnesses and respiratory ailments. Recent patients include one severely malnourished child, along with two other children also being treated for less severe malnutrition.
Meanwhile, Tuesday, there were reports of three Taliban troops approaching within 50 meters of Killi Faizo, brandishing rocket propelled grenade launchers. The troops later left the area, but the incident underlines the serious security concerns at the site.
On Tuesday, some 219 Afghans were reportedly forced back from Pakistan at the Chaman crossing. The Afghans were reportedly stopped at two different checkpoints and forced back into Afghanistan.
Some 300 people officially crossed into southern Pakistan, and another 500 reportedly arrived unofficially Tuesday. Up to 200 families are now waiting at Killi Faizo site for pre-registration and initial assistance.
Elsewhere in Baluchistan Province, 100 new Afghan families totalling some 600 persons arrived at one old Afghan refugee settlement in need of assistance. They group told aid workers that they would rather live among the long-time refugees rather than remain in the exposed border region.
UNHCR gears up for assistance into Afghanistan
UNHCR is funnelling relief supplies to Termez, Uzbekistan, for deployment into Afghanistan as soon as conditions allow. A second airlift of 670 tents from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Termez, Uzbekistan, was scheduled to leave Tuesday. The first airlift arrived in Termez on Sunday. Additional flights are planned over the coming days. UNHCR is also trucking supplies from other Central Asian republics.
UNHCR is also looking at ways of helping those refugees who may want to go back to Afghanistan from Pakistan in the wake of the latest developments. UNHCR international staff, who had pulled out of Afghanistan nearly two months ago, are now ready to return as soon as the UN security specialists give the green light to go back.
On the Iran side, UNHCR, is still awaiting the green light from Iranian government authorities to allow a humanitarian convoy, organised jointly with the Iranian Red Crescent Society, to be sent from Mashad, in northeastern Iran, to Herat. The convoy, still expected to depart this week, will take 2,000 plastic sheets and 10,000 blankets to Herat from UNHCR's stockpiles in Mashad. UNHCR is also awaiting UN approval of a possible return of staff to parts of Afghanistan. UN security staff in the coming days will make a security assessment of the road from Mashad to Herat that is expected to be used for cross-border operations from Mashad.