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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
UN braced for refugee flood
Refugees at Chaman
Afghan refugees mass at the Pakistani border
The United Nations is drawing up emergency plans to cope with up to a million Afghan refugees flooding into Pakistan in the event of an attack by the US-led coalition.

Thousands of people are already fleeing Afghanistan as the military build-up against the ruling Taleban gathers pace.

Refugee with children in wheelbarrow
Refugees will use any transport - even a wheelbarrow
Officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan are surveying 75 possible sites near the Afghan border for new refugee camps.

And the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has announced plans to resume deliveries of food aid into Afghanistan from Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

The Americans are demanding that Osama Bin Laden - chief suspect behind the attacks in New York and Washington - be handed over unconditionally, but the Taleban have refused.

Click here for map of Afghanistan

Refugees in Pakistan report chaos in Kabul as people rush to escape the expected attacks.

Thousands are also fleeing other areas they believe might be a US target, such as the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar in the south.

Border stays closed

The UNHCR is pressing for refugees to be allowed into Pakistan, and thousands headed for a border crossing near Quetta after rumours that it was to be opened.

Pakistan border police checking documents
Security is tight at the Pakistan border
They hope to have the first new refugee camp up and running within 10 days.

But the Pakistani Government says that, for the moment, the border will remain closed.

The United Nations is planning an international appeal to raise funds for the refugees and officials say it will be one of the largest appeals in the organisation's history.

In an effort to prevent starvation among refugees, the WFP has agreed to resume food shipments to northern and western Afghanistan on a trial basis for the first time since the attacks on New York and Washington.

Our local staff together with aid workers will continue to work under extremely difficult conditions to help avoid starvation in Afghanistan

Khaled Adly
World Food Programme
Deteriorating security conditions and lack of commercial transport prompted the WFP - the main food aid agency in the country - to suspend food shipments to Afghanistan on 12 September.

The agency says that on Monday, Taleban officials seized 1,400 tonnes of food from a WFP office inside Afghanistan.

But it says, despite this, shipments will now resume to those areas where security is relatively stable, local transport is available and aid workers are present on the ground to oversee distribution.

The WFP estimates that about 1.6 million Afghans will run out of food if they do not receive additional supplies.

"Our local staff together with aid workers from various NGOs (non-governmental organisations) will continue to work under extremely difficult conditions to help avoid starvation in Afghanistan," said Khaled Adly, WFP regional director for West Asia and the Middle East.

Aid agencies are pressing Pakistan to reopen the border to relieve the growing pressure as thousands of Afghans try to escape.

"We believe there could be around 5,000 to 10,000 people out in the open on the Afghan side of the border and possibly a similar number sheltering in the bazaar," said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad says Pakistani officials will closely screen all new arrivals and keep them confined to camps as near the border as possible, so they can be easily repatriated once the situation improves.

Tight security is in place for the new camps - they are reportedly surrounded by barbed wire to restrict the movement of refugees.

There are an estimated 3.5 million Afghan refugees already living in Iran and Pakistan and at least a million more displaced inside Afghanistan.

Map showing refugee movements

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The BBC's Fiona Werge
"If strikes are launched against Afghanistan the crisis can only get worse"
Panos Moumtzis, UNHCR
"It's absolutely crucial that these people are allowed to cross the borders"
Khaled Mansour of the World Food Programme
"We are helping up to a million people inside Afghanistan"
See also:

11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
22 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's fear of refugee flood
24 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban retreat in heavy fighting
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Afghan instability
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
The wild border town of Quetta
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