UN Chief Tells Afghanistan's Refugees They Aren't Forgotten
Islamabad, March 13 (Bloomberg) -- United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said the world hadn't forgotten the tens of thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing war and famine in their homeland, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press said.
Annan was speaking during a visit to the Shamshatoo camp near Peshawar in northwest Pakistan, which houses about 70,000 refugees who have arrived since January. Another 80,000 are living in squalid conditions at the nearby Jalozai camp.
``I want to remind you that you do have friends outside Afghanistan,'' AFP quoted Annan as saying. ``I pray for peace and stability in your country so that in time you can return and resume your life with your families.''
Afghans form the largest refugee population with about three million scattered around the world. Most fled to Iran and Pakistan during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, though drought and the civil war between the Taliban movement and opposition forces created a new influx since September.
Another 500,000 people are displaced within Afghanistan. The World Food Program warned a million people face famine this year.
Pakistan, which already hosts 1.2 million Afghan refugees, closed its borders in November saying it cannot afford to look after them.
It no longer receives UN assistance for its long-term refugee population and fears it will be left to cope with the new refugees once UN emergency funds dry up, AP said.
``We are not only overstretched, we are exhausted,'' AP quoted Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, as saying. ``We just do not have the means.''
Annan toured food distribution points, medical clinics and schools in the Shamshatoo camp.
Still, a planned visit to Jalozai, which has no water, sanitation or proper shelter, was canceled because of security concerns, AFP said.
Doctors say the situation at Jalozai is desperate and a new site must be found before summer when temperatures soar. There are already almost daily deaths among children and the elderly, AP said.
``The health sector just could not manage if we have an epidemic such as cholera or meningitis in Jalozai,'' Suleman Daud Khan, a doctor with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told AFP.
Annan's visit to Pakistan was overshadowed by the outcry over the Taliban regime's destruction of Afghanistan's ancient statues. At the weekend, Annan expressed concern that worldwide anger over the damage will hamper efforts to attract aid donations.
The Taliban has been in control of Afghanistan since it captured Kabul in 1996 from President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Its strict interpretation of Islamic law has kept it in international isolation. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban government.
In January, the UN tightened sanctions against the Taliban for its failure to hand over exiled Saudi Arabian extremist Osama bin Laden, who is wanted by the U.S. for allegedly masterminding the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Many in Afghanistan and Pakistan saw the move as contrary to the UN's humanitarian goals, AFP said. Annan said the UN was fully committed to alleviating the plight of the Afghan people.
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