Pakistan + 1 more

Pakistan: Land dispute threatening refugee camps over

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ISLAMABAD, 11 March (IRIN) - A dispute with land owners that brought about the suspension of humanitarian supplies to some 72,000 Afghan refugees living in four refugee camps in the border town of Chaman in south-central Pakistan has been resolved, IRIN learnt on Tuesday.
"It was a local dispute that disrupted the provision of humanitarian aid for weeks last month, and was settled after an agreement that increased the number of local people to be employed there as chowkidars [guards]," a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jack Redden, told IRIN in Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

The landowners blocked access to the Landi Karez, Roghani, Dara 1 and Dara 2 camps last month after the government's Commissioner of Afghan Refugees (CAR) in the southwestern Balochistan Province cut the number of guards from 20 to five in each camp due to financial constraints. Although their protest was suspended after a week, the landowners threatened to reimpose the blockade after six weeks if there was no agreement.

Afghans who fled in the wake of the US-led war against the former Taliban rulers live in the camps, all of which were affected by the last month's closure. "Even water was cut off at one point. Food distribution was halted, medical staff couldn't get into the health centres, and education was also disrupted," Redden said.

Under an agreement facilitated by Chaman's local administration between the representatives of the landowners, UNHCR and CAR last Thursday, landlords in the area gave their assurances that they would not block future humanitarian assistance to the refugees in the camps. In response, the CAR would employ eight guards per camp, which would be increased to 10 in the near future.

In addition, a tube-well in the Landi Karez camp would be installed subject to the availability of water, with tube-wells to be bored in the Dara 1 and Dara 2 camps as well.

Muhibullah, a logistics officer with the French NGO, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told IRIN from Chaman that health centres in the camps were completely closed for a few days in February, and protesting local people did not allow MSF medical staff to enter the camps. "We are happy that the dispute has been resolved. Now everything will be normal," he asserted.

"This is a step in the right direction for UNHCR, because it's recognition of the fact that there has to be a compromise with the owners of the land," Matthew Cogen, an aid worker with the international NGO, Concern, told IRIN from the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta.

Cogen added that their major concern were the thousands of stranded asylum seekers in the waiting area on the border, as well as the displaced in Spin Buldak across the border in Afghanistan. "In the refugee camps the conditions are not too bad, but they are appalling in the waiting area," he said.

[ENDS]

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