ISLAMABAD, 17 June (IRIN) - Following a recent decision to close 14 Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan's North Waziristan agency - part of the western tribal belt - by the end of June, Islamabad, together with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) announced on Friday the closure of two more camps in the southern Balochistan province within the next two months.
"The Jungle Pir Alizai camp in Pishin district would be closed by 31 July while the second [camp], Girdi Jungle, located in the Dalbandin area of Chagai district would be closed by the end of August, offering its residents a choice of repatriation or relocation to another camp," Jack Redden, a spokesman for UNHCR in Islamabad, said.
According to this year's census of Afghans in the country, Balochistan province has close to 800,000 Afghan refugees, of whom 155,000 were living in the northern district of Pishin, including some 64,000 in three camps. The southern district of Chagai has about 62,000 Afghans - the majority of whom live in four camps.
The Pakistani government has cited security and alleged criminal activity in the camps in recent months in justifying its decision to close down the two refugee facilities.
"Besides government concerns, the humanitarian agencies operating in these camps are also having difficulty in access and security," Redden said. Although refugees in the two camps have been informed about the decision, the schedule for extra staffing to facilitate the repatriation cases would be announced later, he added.
Some 20,000 residents of Jungle Pir Alizai camp and another 43,000 Afghans living in Girdi Jungle can avail the UNHCR's continuing voluntary repatriation assistance package or relocate to Mohammed Kheil camp near the provincial capital, Quetta.
The UN refugee agency is providing basic medical care, primary education and water and sanitation services in some 145 camps across the country, including 12 in Balochistan province, one in Punjab province and some 132 in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas.
The standard assistance package for Afghan refugees includes a travel grant of US $3 to $30 per person, depending on the distance to the destination and another $12 per person to help returnees re-establish themselves in Afghanistan.
Since 2003, the closing of Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan has been continuing in parallel with the repatriation operation that began in March 2002, which is governed by a tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 2003, UNHCR closed an unofficial camp on the border between Pakistan's southern Balochistan province and Afghanistan where some 20,000 Afghans were stranded since late 2001. However, in 2004, with more Afghans drawn home by improving conditions, more than a dozen "new" camps, were established in Pakistan's western border areas to shelter Afghans fleeing the 2001 war in Afghanistan were closed. In addition another 30,000 Afghans from restive South Waziristan tribal agency were also asked to move out in June 2004.
Under the voluntary repatriation assistance programme, the UN refugee agency has helped some 2.4 million Afghans to return to their homeland during over the past three years, which is described as the largest repatriation operation in the agency's 57 years.
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