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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Aid agencies brace for Afghan exodus
Three refugee children at a refugee camp in the Pakistani border town of Chaman, southwestern Pakistan
Pakistan is still formally keeping its borders closed
By the BBC's Simon Ingram in Quetta

Western aid agencies operating in Pakistan are stepping up preparations in case of a large-scale influx of refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan.

On Wednesday the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees opened a new camp near the border town of Chaman.

Only a handful of Afghan families have so far taken shelter in the camp because the Pakistani authorities have refused to allow all but the most needy refugees into the country.

However, there is concern that the refugee problem may be only the visible tip of a much bigger humanitarian crisis inside Afghanistan itself.

Desperate

A handful of tents now stand on the desolate stretch of soil known as Killi Faizo, about two kilometres from Pakistan's south western border with Afghanistan.

It is here that the UNHCR has established what in deference to the Pakistani authorities is being called a temporary staging site rather than a refugee camp - a place where the most urgent needs of people fleeing Afghanistan can be met.

Fewer than 100 desperate people have come to the camps so far.

UNHCR staff expect that number to swell soon, even though Pakistan is keeping all formal border crossings closed.

Reports from inside Afghanistan suggest many people are trying to flee cities like Kandahar, either to escape the intense US air bombardment or the attempts by the Taleban authorities to force young men to take up arms.

An Afghan woman begs alongside her injured child in Peshawar, Afghanistan
Oxfam says that up to 7.5 million Afghan refugees face starvation before winter
So far though the threatened exodus has not materialised and some aid workers suspect that the real humanitarian disaster is looming not on borders but inside Afghanistan itself.

Winter looming

Oxfam, which until September had one of the largest relief operations in the country, says that with winter fast approaching, 7.5 million Afghans risk hunger or worse.

Limited food shipments are entering the country, but distribution Oxfam officials say, has ground to a halt.

Most at risk are about 500,000 people heavily dependent on food aid whose villages will become inaccessible once snow starts to fall.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergal Keane
visits a hospital where survivors of a US bombing raid are being treated
See also:

25 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan women speak out
24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'to welcome aid agencies'
18 Oct 01 | Education
A refugee's story
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
How Afghans became aid dependent
15 Oct 01 | South Asia
Thousands cross into Pakistan illegally
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