UNHCR Welcomes Pakistan Easing Restrictions at Afghan Border Crossings

The U.N. refugee agency says it welcomes recent steps by Pakistan to ease restrictions at official border points with neighboring Afghanistan. The agency says this enables smoother movement of goods into troubled Afghanistan, and keep people from turning to human smugglers to cross the border.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country and depends largely on cross-border trade for survival. Since the Taliban took control of the country in mid-August, Pakistan has tightened border controls.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch, speaking from the Afghan capital Kabul, says the border disruptions have created many hardships. He says they have affected trade and regular population movements. In some cases, he says the border restrictions may have acted as a barrier for people seeking safety.

“Disruptions have left many Afghans, including women, children and those needing urgent medical attention, stranded for weeks, especially at the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing between the two countries. This border has remained closed for the past three weeks now,” he said.

Balloch said the new steps will ease fears of people being pushed into the hands of human smugglers and traffickers, potentially with deadly consequences. He said, so far, a predicted mass exodus of refugees from Afghanistan has not materialized. To date, he said only some 50,000 people have fled to Pakistan and Iran.

He said the bigger problem remains the huge number of people displaced inside Afghanistan. This year, he noted, conflict has caused nearly 700,000 people to flee their homes, for a total of 3.5 million people uprooted within the country.

Balloch said the UNHCR is mainly focused on providing essential humanitarian assistance to displaced Afghans. He said his agency has provided tents, emergency shelter kits, food rations and many other relief supplies this year to nearly half a million people.

“UNHCR is also arranging further airlifts of humanitarian supplies into Afghanistan in addition to the three flights that recently landed in Termez, Uzbekistan. As we continue to scale up our humanitarian response, more resources are urgently needed ahead of the harsh winter that could bring deadly consequences for Afghans,” Balloch said.

The UNHCR is appealing for urgent international support to displaced Afghans living in dire conditions both within and outside the country.

A recent U.N. report finds more than half the Afghan population, nearly 23 million people, are suffering from acute hunger. It warns the looming harsh winter season will cut off access to many areas of the country where families desperately depend on humanitarian aid for survival.

Source: Voice of America