Fighting on Afghan-Pakistani Border Forces Resettling of Refugees
Michael Kitchen
Hong Kong
26 Jun 2003, 12:22 UTC

Intense fighting along the Afghan-Pakistani border is forcing the United Nations to resettle refugees living the area. While some will now return to Afghanistan, other refugees are waiting for the Afghan economy to improve.

Afghanistan's border with the Pakistani province of Baluchistan is a dangerous place.

Firefights there pit U.S. and Afghan national forces against suspected remnants of the ousted Taleban regime and other militants.

This is bad news for close to 20,000 Afghans stranded on the Pakistani side, near the town of Chaman. They fled Afghanistan when war erupted in 2001 but were held at the border when Pakistan, already flooded with Afghan refugees, refused to allow them into the country's interior.

Now fighting is forcing the Afghans to move again. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees' office in Pakistan says it will close the Chaman camp within a month.

UNHCR's Jack Redden says the refugee agency has wanted to resettle the group for some time.

"It was never considered secure and we also couldn't provide proper services in the area, so we've always wanted to clear it," he said.

Mr. Redden says about 60 percent of the Chaman refugees are opting to return to Afghanistan and will be moved to a camp near Kandahar. Pakistan has given permission for the remainder to move to refugee camps farther inside its borders.

Mr. Redden adds that with security in much of Afghanistan stabilizing, more refugees are willing to go home.

The UNHCR so far this year has repatriated a quarter of a million Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran.

Those who decide not to return are often more worried about not finding a job than about local security.

Mr. Redden says investing in Afghanistan's economy is the best way to bring people back. He says economic development could then, in turn, lead to a safer Afghanistan.

"If there was investment and continuing development inside Afghanistan, I don't think you would see this problem with warlords," said Jack Redden.

Some 1.2 million Afghans still live in Pakistani refugee camps, with hundreds of thousands more living on their own in the cities.

The UNHCR intends to continue funding repatriation through 2005, after which it will reevaluate the situation.

Join the mailing list