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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

PAKISTAN: Chaman waiting area closed

ISLAMABAD, 22 July 2003 (IRIN) - A makeshift settlement for Afghan asylum seekers on the southern Pakistan/Afghan border was closed down on Tuesday, as the last convoy of settlers were transported back to Afghanistan.

"In general the move went very smoothly. But the convoy was held up at Spin Buldak in Afghanistan due to security concerns. However, they crossed into Afghanistan at 1 p.m. (local time)," a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Babar Baloch, told IRIN on Tuesday from Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan in southwestern Pakistan.

A total of 19 trucks carried 391 families from the Chaman waiting area bordering the southern Afghan province of Kandahar and Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan, back to their homeland. "The conditions were tough for them as it was windy, hot and dusty and it was a long journey," he added.

To help the refugees settle in their homeland a package of US $3 per person, food at arrival, non-food items and a plot of land were given to the returning Afghans at Zharey Dasht camp in Kandahar. "UNHCR and its implementing partners are also offering vocational training," Baloch said.

A peanut factory has been established near the camp and internally displaced people(IDPs) are being offered construction work on the road between Kandahar and Zharey Dasht. A work-for-pay scheme has also been set up in the
camp focusing on cultivation and construction. "People have been happy to move as they were living in miserable conditions in the waiting area," the UNHCR spokesman said.

Noor Mohammed from the southeastern Afghan province of Zabul arrived at the Chaman waiting area in February 2002. He was pleased to be returning home. "I was unlucky and I didn't get into Pakistan, so I got stuck at the waiting area and conditions were terrible," he said. "It was only with the help of aid agencies that we were able to survive."

The waiting area has been closed after UNHCR, Pakistani and Afghan authorities deemed the site unsuitable due to security concerns and living conditions. Since the drive to clear the area began on 30 June, 10,757 individuals have been transported to Zharey Dasht and 7,801 to the Mohammed Khel camp inside Pakistan. However, only 32 individuals returned to their
place of origin. Additionally, 388 individuals who registered did not appear and may have moved on their own.

Last year more than 1.5 million Afghans returned from Pakistan under UNHCR's repatriation programme. So far this year the agency has helped a further 222,000 to return.

"People are scared to return to some areas due to security concerns as there have been reports of harassment of Pashtun communities in the north of the country," Baloch stressed.

Some 26,000 asylum seekers were living at the Chaman waiting area after fleeing Afghanistan when the US-led coalition started bombing their country in October 2001. The Pakistani authorities have already started demolishing the structures at the site and the once crowded and dusty flee-infested site
now stands empty.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



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