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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 03:12 GMT
Disaster looms at refugee camps
Refugees at Makaki huddle against a sand storm
Hundreds of refugees at Makaki camp have no shelter
Aid workers warn that conditions at an Afghan refugee camp on the border with Iran are so bad that people could start dying unless things improve.

British-based agency Christian Aid, which has assessed two camps run by the Iranian Red Crescent in Taleban-controlled areas, says it is extremely worried about 1,500 refugees who have no shelter, virtually no medical care, limited food and poor sanitation.

You have a distinct recipe for people dying during the night

Aid worker John Davison
Some refugees have walked hundreds of kilometres and are traumatised by the deaths of friends and family in the civil war and US bombing.

Iran - like many of Afghanistan's other neighbours - has refused to open its borders to Afghan refugees fleeing US bombing raids.

It prefers to care for them in camps a few kilometres inside Afghanistan.

Christian Aid visited two camps, called Makaki and Mile 46, and was particularly concerned about conditions at Makaki.

Windbreaks from twigs

The camp houses some 6,500 refugees and about 5,000 are living in tents.

But Christian Aid says about 1,500 have no shelter at all and are sleeping rough on the outskirts of the camp.

John Davison, of the assessment team, says some refugees are trying to build windbreaks from twigs to shelter them from dust storms.

Red Crescent worker talks to Afghan refugees
The Red Crescent is doing its best for the refugees
"You have got people there who are very traumatised anyway," he said.

"There are people who have come from as far away as Mazar e Sharif which is 750km away. Some of them have walked a lot of that way and they are not in great shape.

"If you add to that inadequate food supplies and plummeting temperatures you have a distinct recipe for people dying during the night."

Border tension

The BBC's Pam O'Toole says Iranian authorities insist that Makaki is full and appear to have no plans to set up more tents.

The Iranian Red Crescent is talking about putting two new camps elsewhere in the area.

Christian Aid says people are still arriving in Makaki, but adds there have also been reports that the Taleban may be holding refugees back from the area until new facilities are available.

Refugee seeks shelter
Many have no protection from sandstorms
There are still reports of some refugees trying to sneak across the Iranian border.

But Christian Aid says others may have been deterred by reports that about 13 Afghans have been shot by Iranian border guards in recent weeks.

In another development, the World Health Organisation says Afghanistan is suffering a mental health crisis after two decades of war.

It said in a statement today that two decades of war have left an estimated five million Afghans affected by psychosocial distress.

A survey by UN agency Unicef four years ago found that 40% of children in Kabul had lost a parent, two-thirds had seen dead bodies, and 90% believed they would die in the civil war.

See also:

06 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN hits back over Afghan aid
05 Nov 01 | South Asia
Picture gallery: Afghan refugees
03 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugee women at risk
02 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iran refugee camps 'getting worse'
31 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan sends back most needy Afghans
05 Nov 01 | South Asia
Under attack: Life in Kabul
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