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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 06:57 GMT 07:57 UK
UN suspends Afghan refugee screening
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador US actress Angelina Jolie visiting the Jalozai refugee camp
Refugees who pass the screening can stay temporarily
The United Nations is temporarily suspending its screening programme for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, after the government deported 28 families.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is seeking an urgent meeting with the government to discuss why the families, who arrived in Pakistan earlier this month, were sent back without being screened.

The decision to deport Afghan families is unfortunate and regrettable... it is a clear breach of the 2 August agreement

Yusuf Hasan
UNHCR spokesman
More than 60,000 Afghans are being interviewed by UNHCR and Pakistan officials in the makeshift Jalozai camp near the northern city of Peshawar, to verify whether they deserve refugee status.

Pakistan says most of the newly arrived Afghans do not deserve refugee status and should be sent back, but the authorities had pledged not to deport anyone from the two camps before they were screened.

The deported families were among nearly 1,000 families who came to Jalozai during the past few months from northern Afghanistan.

'Breach of agreement'

The UN has described Pakistan's decision to deport the families as incomprehensible.

"The decision to deport Afghan families is unfortunate and regrettable," Yusuf Hasan, a UNHCR spokesman in Islamabad, said.

Afghan women refugees at the Jalozai camp
More than two million Afghans have fled to Pakistan
"It is a clear breach of the 2 August agreement," he said.

Local people said that, on Tuesday, Pakistani officials told the 28 refugee families that they were being taken to another site to be interviewed.

Instead, they were put on government trucks and taken to the Afghan border, where they were handed over to the Taleban militia.

Screening process

The BBC's Pakistan correspondent, Susannah Price, says the UNHCR has worked hard to try to convince the Afghan refugees that the screening process is for their own good.

The refugees are interviewed at length, and anyone who faces persecution or comes from areas where there is fighting or drought is to be granted temporary permission to stay.

Refugees who fail the screening, including those who are seen as economic migrants, are to be deported by the government.

The two refugee camps will be closed once the screening ends.

About 14,000 families have signed up for the process, while others have decided to return home with help from UNHCR or to move elsewhere in Pakistan.

More than two million Afghan refugees are already living in Pakistan, and at least 150,000 are currently seeking refugee status.

Pakistan worries that once UN funding stops, it will be left with the unrealistic burden of feeding and clothing the new refugees.

See also:

30 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban threaten to close airspace
26 Jul 01 | South Asia
UN to tighten Afghan sanctions
24 May 01 | South Asia
UN steps up pressure on Taleban
24 May 01 | South Asia
Taleban's Hindu tagging condemned
17 May 01 | South Asia
'Liberty' for Afghan women
26 Mar 01 | South Asia
Reporters see wrecked Buddhas
16 May 01 | South Asia
Prime time in Afghanistan
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
11 Jun 01 | South Asia
Timeline: Afghanistan
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