Tajikistan says will not admit Afghan refugees
DUSHANBE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Tajikistan on Tuesday turned down an appeal by a United Nations body to admit thousands of Afghan refugees, saying this would put its security at risk and further aggravate its economic plight.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Monday more than 10,000 refugees, mostly women and children who had fled from an advance by the ruling Taleban in northern Afghanistan, were stranded on islands in the Pyanj River that divides the two countries.
The refugee agency said at least 41 people had died from fast-spreading diseases and malnutrition since last October.
The UNHCR recognised the presence of anti-Taleban fighters among the refugees, but urged the Tajik government "to respect its international obligations and allow the women, children and non-combatant men to seek refuge in mainland Tajikistan."
A senior Tajik official made clear that Dushanbe would not change its stance on the refugee issue.
"We have not allowed these refugees to cross into Tajikistan, because they include not only those who escaped but also elements hostile to Tajikistan, namely armed fighters," presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov told Reuters.
Tajikistan, ravaged by years of civil war, is struggling to preserve a fragile peace and fears the advance of a militant, Taleban-style Islam from neighbouring Afghanistan.
The mountainous Central Asian state of six million has already become a transit route for drugs and arms smuggled to ex-Soviet states and Europe from Afghanistan.
Tajik officials also fear an outburst of popular discontent among the country's population, most of whom live in poverty.
"If Afghan refugees cross into Tajikistan, this will further aggravate the economic situation of the country," Saidov said. "We ourselves have too many problems to deal with."
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