Over dozen Afghan refugee camps to go
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is set to close more than a dozen Afghan refugee camps within four weeks, citing concerns over security. The camps have a total population of over 30,000 and are located in the North Waziristan agency of the western tribal belt, officials told IRIN.
“In total, about 14 camps would be closed. However, the (Afghan) population living outside the camps in urban or rural settlements would be allowed to stay on in the area,” Jehangir Khan, head of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR), said in Islamabad.
According to the recent census of Afghans living in Pakistan, some 58,000 Afghan refugees are living in North Waziristan agency, over 30,000 of them in camps. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides health and education services to the camps, through implementing partners. In a similar move in June last year, about 30,000 Afghan refugees in the adjoining South Waziristan agency were asked to leave the area, which was the scene of a full-scale offensive by security forces as they attempted to weed out Islamic militants from positions near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The UNHCR has started preparing information leaflets to let Afghans know that they may choose either to be repatriated or to be relocated to other areas.
“The material would be handed over to the CAR officials towards the end of this week, to distribute it amongst the Afghans living in camps since we can’t move into the area,” Jack Redden, a UNHCR spokesman, said. In 2004, the UNHCR closed down about 12 ‘new’ camps established near the Pakistan-Afghan border to shelter those fleeing the conflict of late 2001 in Afghanistan. irin