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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 23:52 GMT
Refugees trapped in no man's land
Refugees camp out in the open waiting to register at UNHCR camp
Refugees are sleeping out in sub-zero temperatures
Aid workers are urging Pakistan to lift restrictions that have left 2,000 refugees stranded without food or shelter in a makeshift camp in the no-man's land between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says the Pakistani authorities have been allowing only 350 new arrivals each day to register at the camps the agency has set up in Pakistan providing tented accommodation, sanitation facilities and food supplies.

We had a case a couple of days ago with a woman giving birth to a child at 3am in no-man's land without any help

Kriss Janowski,
The refugees who are still waiting are sleeping under pieces of cloth or plastic in sub-zero temperatures near the Chaman border crossing point, living on whatever they have managed to carry with them.

Almost all the refugees are ethnic Pashtuns escaping the fighting and bombing focused around Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Some fled 12 days ago and have still not received any aid.

"We had a case a couple of days ago with a woman giving birth to a child at 3am in no-man's land without any help," Kriss Janowski of the agency told the BBC.

The UNHCR's aid efforts also suffered a setback when two of the agency's vehicles were ambushed by three armed men.

Babies dying

Convoys moving Afghan refugees between two camps in the north-west have been temporarily suspended in response to the incident.

A boy carries aid provisions in the UNHCR camp near Chaman border crossing
The UNHCR has food supplies and tents awaiting those allowed in
Meanwhile, aid agencies in northern Afghanistan say their work is being severely hampered by the refusal of the Uzbek Government to re-open the Friendship Bridge which leads across the Amu Darya River into Afghanistan. The Uzbeks cited security concerns.

A journey that should take 40 minutes is taking up to 10 days as agencies try to find alternative routes through Turkmenistan and Pakistan.

"We haven't got the flood of aid we need. We've just got a trickle," Save the Children's Brendan Paddy told the BBC.

He warned that babies and infants stranded in northern Afghanistan are dying and an estimated 150,000 people are living in flimsy tents in a refugee camp near Mazar-e-Sharif, where snows have arrived and temperatures drop below freezing every night.

Working women

As aid agencies continue to battle with the unstable security situation, access problems and the onset of winter, the United Nations human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, has said that international aid to Afghanistan should be made conditional on women being allowed to participate effectively in the participation in the country's new government.

Workers load a truck with WFP aid in Peshawar
Purchasing power - not supplies - is the main problem
Opening an Afghan women's summit in Brussels, Mrs Robinson said if there was going to be support for reconstruction, donor nations had to see the participation of those representing the 60% of the Afghan population estimated by the UN to be female.

"It is extremely important that it is not token," she said. "It needs a number of women."

In the capital, Kabul, Afghan women are playing a key role in a one-off mission by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to distribute food to an estimated one million people too poor to feed their families.

Low incomes

The WFP is employing large numbers of women, who were forbidden from working during Taleban rule, to survey households in the capital's poorest areas, calculating how many people there are and how urgent their need is.

It is both easier for them to gain access to households and a way of providing the women themselves with some income.

They will be distributing food coupons that will entitle a household to a 50-kilogram (110-pound) sack of wheat - enough, it is estimated, to last a month.

UN spokesman Khaled Mansoor says food stocks themselves are not the issue:

"The problem ... is not really the availability of food but the purchasing power of the people, because a casual labourer here doesn't get enough money to provide for a family of six people, which is the average number of people in a family in Afghanistan."

The BBC's Clive Myrie
"Rural areas are suffering"
Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF
"Convoys have been getting into Afghanistan"
World Food Programme's Lindsay Davies
"It is not an easy task"
See also:

22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan aid delivery 'unsafe'
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan renewal 'will come from within'
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Agencies call for Afghan peace force
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Food aid heads for Kabul
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's huge rebuilding task
15 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN aid shipment reaches Afghanistan
04 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan talks approach final hurdle
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