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Sunday, 21 October, 2001, 21:51 GMT 22:51 UK
Chaman's queue of despair
Afghans trying to run across border
Hundreds of Afghans have tried to rush the border
By the BBC's Rachel Wright in Chaman

As thousands of desperate Afghan refugees gather at the Pakistani border at Chaman, near Quetta, there is increasing pressure on the Pakistani authorities to open up the crossings.

"People with identity papers please form an orderly queue," screamed a guard in the control tower at the crossing, in south-west Pakistan.

Faced with the massed ranks of Afghans just 50m away the police were understandably nervous

Massed on the Afghan side were 10-15,000 refugees, all desperate to get into Pakistan. But as the border is still closed, only those with identity papers or with injuries are supposed to be allowed across.

At least, that is the official line. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says most of the people who make it across no-man's-land have paid bribes to the border guards or have fake Pakistani identity papers.

This would explain why there were so few refugees crossing during the two hours we were watching.

Two men and two children did come across on stretchers after apparently being beaten up by the Pakistani guards, as hundreds of Afghans tried to rush the border.

Changed situation

The situation has changed considerably since we first visited Chaman just under a week ago. Then, it had been relatively quiet, with more cameramen than refugees.

Most refugees are from Kandahar
Today the number of police had doubled, and faced with the massed ranks of Afghans just 50m away they were understandably nervous.

"Don't let them see you or they will shoot," said one of the local commanders as I pointed a small video camera at the border.

I hid behind the armed guards as I watched the front line. But there seemed little evidence that there were any armed Taleban guards on the other side - only desperate people fleeing from the Taleban oppression and the American bombs.

Those refugees that did make it across were virtually all from Kandahar, the Taleban stronghold just 200km away on the other side of the border.

Desperate in Kandahar

One turned out to be a doctor, who tried to save the life of the son of the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.

Hospital in northern Afghanistan
Afghan hospitals are facing medicine shortages
Dr Abdul Barri said he had fought for four hours to save the boy's life, but the 10-year-old had died after losing too much blood and because there was not enough medicine in the hospital.

In fact, Dr Barri said there were only five days' medical supplies left in the city.

The situation seems to have become increasingly desperate in Kandahar, forcing most of its citizens to leave.

But the Pakistani Government has given no indication that it will open the border. Indeed, the home secretary of the state - who was also at the border today - said he was concentrating all his efforts on bringing food and shelter across the border to help the Afghans - on the other side.

The BBC's Fergal Keane
"Many coming through the borders speak of panic"
See also:

21 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan holds back refugee tide
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
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