August 22, 2007 / 4:44 PM / 12 years ago

Closing Pakistan refugee camp may cause crisis-UN

GENEVA, Aug 22 (Reuters) - The United Nations asked Pakistan on Wednesday to delay closing a refugee camp for 100,000 Afghans because it could trigger a humanitarian crisis over the winter.

The Jalozai camp in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province is due to be closed on Aug. 31. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more time was needed to ensure those repatriating to Afghanistan could do so safely and sustainably.

"UNHCR has asked Pakistan to consider temporarily suspending the closure of Jalozai until 2008 in order to permit a more dignified and controlled conclusion to the process.

"With only six working days to go before the formal closure date, UNCHR is deeply concerned that at this late stage of the repatriation season, tens of thousands of Afghans are being pressured into leaving in a manner that will lead to a humanitarian crisis this winter," the U.N. agency said.

"Previous camp closures carried out late in the year have resulted in secondary internal displacement and returnee families living in inadequate makeshift shelters over the winter," it said in a statement released in Geneva.

About 5 million Afghans have gone home from Pakistan and Iran since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, but 3 million remain in Pakistan and another 2 million live in Iran.

An agreement signed between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNHCR this month pledged to ensure repatriation was voluntary and gradual, and that security conditions in Afghanistan be taken into account.

Refugees from the camps slated for closure can volunteer to return home or move to another camp in Pakistan. Many Afghans living in the camps say they fear returning to their country, crippled by more than 20 years of war.

Nearly 40,000 Afghans from another camp in Pakistan — Kacha Gari, which was closed at the end of July — have returned voluntarily to Afghanistan.

But only 7,000 Jalozai residents have opted to return this year, and none have moved to other relocation sites, the UNHCR said.

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