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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
Chaos as Afghans flee bombed city
refugees
Many new arrivals had to pay smugglers
Refugees have been flooding out of Afghanistan in terror at continued US strikes.

zaeef
Abdul Salam Zaeef: No deal
More than 3,500 Afghans poured into the border town of Chaman on Friday after fleeing heavy bombing in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

The strikes carried on for a 13th day, with the Arab satellite TV channel al-Jazeera reporting more explosions in the city in the evening.

The UN said the refugees came with no food and no belongings - and they described the situation as chaotic.

"A wave of panic has swept the border," a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the AFP news agency.


People are arriving with no food or belongings, some families have become separated

UNHCR official
The US has confirmed for the first time that it has begun the next phase of its operation to hunt down Osama Bin Laden - with the deployment of a small contingent of ground troops for intelligence gathering and other activities.

The Taleban meanwhile remain defiant in the face of the US attacks.

The Taleban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, repeated that they will not hand over Saudi-born militant Bin Laden, the prime suspect for the 11 September plane attacks on the US.

He also denied earlier reports quoting him as saying he had brought back a plan to resolve the conflict.

Casualties

Mohammed Gul, a refugee from Kandahar, told the BBC's Pashto service that he worked in a military hospital, but medicines had run out.

He said: "Bombs were hitting people's houses.

"They damaged lots of houses and they injured and killed lots of innocent people.


"We were there and I saw about 50 people who died and some became injured.

"Everyone is looking to the sky and waiting and thinking when will the American aircraft come and starting killing them."

Even before the American strikes, Pakistan was sheltering some 2.5 million Afghans who had fled years of civil war and drought. It says it cannot cope with any more.

Click here for a map of Afghanistan's battle lines

Pakistani officials say 50,000 Afghans have crossed into Pakistan since the crisis began.

UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers warned on Friday that hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees will need urgent help in the coming weeks.

Mr Lubbers said that his agency had prepared camps on the border with Pakistan, which could deal with up to 300,000 people.

But he said this figure was sure to rise steeply.

Two thousand of the refugees are still stranded in Chaman, about 130 km (80 miles) from the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar.

The UNHCR is to ask Pakistan to allow them to deliver emergency supplies to the area.

The UN is painting an increasingly bleak picture of the fate of the refugees.

Many Afghans, they say, have not got money for food, let alone the journey to the border.

Grim future

New arrivals report having to pay smugglers up to $50 - a huge sum in a country already brought to its knees by drought and war.

Most Afghans know by now that the border with Pakistan - and those with Iran and Central Asia - are all officially closed.

Refugees speak of people fleeing to rural areas - leaving behind half empty cities and adding to the million people the UN estimated were already displaced within Afghanistan before the crisis.

But even inside Pakistan, the refugees face a grim future.

The Pakistani Government is only allowing new refugee camps to be built in the border area, a remote and inhospitable region.

Aid agencies have pleaded with the government to be allowed to build camps elsewhere.

They say their work is frequently hampered by attacks on their staff in an area that is notoriously insecure.

Moreover, the area lacks much basic infrastructure making it harder to supply essentials such as water - all this when the region is suffering a drought.

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Click here for a detailed map of the strikes so far

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergal Keane
"The situation has become desperate"
The BBC's Ben Brown
"There was no pause in American air strikes"
UNHCR spokeswoman Claire Doole
"60,000 people have fled to Pakistan"
See also:

19 Oct 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Plight of the refugees
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban force aid agency to close
19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Short clashes with aid agencies
18 Oct 01 | Education
A refugee's story
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'take over' UN warehouses
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden 'aide' killed in blast
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