Pakistan

Pakistan: Afghans want Balochistan refugee camp to remain open

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ISLAMABAD, 21 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Afghans living in a refugee camp scheduled for closure by August, have asked Pakistani authorities to extend the life of the facility for at least one year, to give residents a chance to make proper arrangements to leave.

Pakistani authorities in the capital, Islamabad, announced in June the intention to close two refugee camps in the Pishin and Chaghai districts of the southern province of Balochistan by the end of August because of security concerns.

Muhammad Ayub, an Afghan elder from the Girdi Jungle camp, one of the settlements earmarked for closure, speaking in Islamabad on Thursday, said he believed it was unreasonable to expect people to move with so little notice.

"About 20,000 households have been living in the camp for more than 25 years. How can such a large population prepare to leave the area all of a sudden in just two months?"

Ayub, along with seven other representatives of the Afghan community from the Girdi Jungle camp, travelled from Chaghai district earlier this week to meet member of the government body dealing with Afghan refugees, the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR).

"We'll consult provincial and other relevant authorities in this regard and will try to accommodate their concerns," Jehangir Khan, the head of CAR, told IRIN in Islamabad after meeting the Afghan elders.

According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Girdi Jungle camp, which was established in 1980, has a population of 43,858. This total was recorded in the Afghan population census conducted earlier this year. Observers believe the population may be much higher because participation in the census was voluntary, so the real population level may be well above that recorded.

"Due to the security conditions, it's becoming difficult to gain access to the area and also provide other facilities like education, health, water and sanitation," said Babar Baloch, a UNHCR spokesman, in Islamabad.

The refugees say the closure is unfair because there is no possibility of repatriation due to the poor economic and security situation in Afghanistan.

"Most of the people have no land back in Afghanistan to provide themselves with shelter and also the country [Afghanistan] lacks social services. So many repatriated Afghan children died last winter due to cold weather, starvation and non-availability of medical treatment." another Afghan elder, Haji Jamal, said.

Afghan refugees not wishing to repatriate were offered relocation to Mohammad Kheil camp near the Balochistan provincial capital, Quetta. "The Afghans wishing to relocate to Mohammad Kheil camp would be provided free transportation," said the UNHCR spokesman.

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