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The BBC's Susannah Price in Quetta
"Afghan refugees have been pouring in for the past 20 years"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Afghans suffer in desert camps
Afghan refugees in Pakistan
The refugees face many problems
By Susannah Price in Quetta

Afghan refugees have poured into Pakistan for the past 20 years and international donors are tired of contributing - but this year's drought has created a desperate situation.


One of my sons spends all his time fetching water and so I can't send him to school

Afghan widow, Mariam
At a dusty refugee camp in south-west Pakistan, Afghan children proudly demonstrated their reading skills to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Sadako Ogata.

Most children here were born in this remote desert and have never even seen their own country.

After school, some children played on the brand new well funded up by the UN.

It is a lifeline for the camp as most wells have run dry.

No water

The drought was caused by the failure of this year's rains.

Nayyar Iqbal, programme manager for the humanitarian organisation Save the Children, says the young are particularly badly affected.

Afghan refugee camp
The refugees stay in camps such as these
"They are facing hardship - parents complain they want to pull out older boys from the school to help in [the] family economy," Mr Iqbal said.

Like many of the refugees, Mariam and her family left the Afghan town of Ghazni several years ago.

She is a widow with seven children.

"We get water from very far off place and sometimes at home we do not have water or even flour to cook with. One of my sons spends all his time fetching water and so I can't send him to school," she said.

Malnourished

Inevitably, the lack of water and dusty conditions have led to widespread health problems.


There is no food and their children are mostly malnourished

Dr Abdul Rashid
Dr Abdul Rashid, medical officer at the clinic, says they treat about 100 refugees a day.

"The big problems for the refugees is a lack of water because there is no water in the city," he said.

"There is no fund and their children are mostly malnourished," he added.

The UN is trying to move refugees in the most remote drought affected areas to larger camps where they will build deeper wells and other amenities.

Afghan refugee girls
Schooling for girls convince many parents to stay
Although many refugees are unwilling to move, the UN high commissioner believes this is the only way out.

"It's very hard to fight drought but what we are trying to do is to bring people to places where there is water, this is the only solution," Sadako Ogata said.

Girls' school

The camps do provide certain advantages such as education for girls, the possibility of limited work and medical facilities the Afghans would not find back home.


What we have to do is to make sure the return is sustainable to make sure they don't go back and come out again

Sadako Ogata
Nayyar Iqbal believes this is keeping some of them from returning to Afghanistan.

"There is no comparison - there is no education for these girls back home. Many of these refugees do not repatriate because [they] feel their girls will not be getting education [back home]," he said.

But every week hundreds of refugees do go back - they say their home districts are peaceful and they have had enough of life in exile.

A few kilometres outside Quetta a convoy of refugees are setting off to return home.

They have no guarantees about conditions back in their villages but say they have had enough in Pakistan and they just want to get back home.

Sadako Ogata in Pakistan
Sadako Ogata hopes the refugees will not return
The UN provides them with money and provisions - but there are worries that the refugees may find conditions in Afghanistan hard going.

Mrs Ogata believes the numbers going back will increase - but wants to ensure they will not come back to Pakistan.

"What we have to do is to make sure the return is sustainable to make sure they don't go back and come out again," she said.

The Afghan refugees at the camps say they do eventually want to go back - but it is a major step to take.

And while the drought has persuaded some to return - many others still want to wait and monitor developments from the other side of the border.

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See also:

18 Sep 00 | South Asia
Ogata urges Taleban on refugee crisis
12 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan refugees head for Tajikistan
12 Aug 00 | South Asia
Refugee surge from Afghan fighting
18 Aug 00 | Europe
UN warns of world refugee crisis
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
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