UN leaves Afghan refugees stranded

Bitter fighting between Afghan government forces and its Taliban opposition is forcing the United Nations to shut down a refugee camp, leaving thousands of Afghans stranded, a spokesman said on Thursday.

    Afghan refugees face
    uncertain future

    The UN is asking the refugees at the Chaman camp to either relocate to other camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan or take money to return to their homes they abandoned two years ago, said UN refugee agency spokesman Jack Redden.


    While the UN never officially recognized the camp near Chaman as a refugee facility, it did provide its inhabitants with assistance.

    Now it wants to shut down the camp because it cannot guarantee the refugees' safety.


    "It was never officially a refugee camp. It is considered an insecure place," Redden said.


    Most of the refugees in the camp are ethnic Pashtuns -- Afghanistan's majority ethnic group -- which dominated the Taliban.


    Pakistan's refusal


    The refugee camp, near Chaman on the Afghan border, opened soon after the October 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.

    Thousands fled the US-led bombing, but were stranded outside Pakistan after it sealed its borders to stop the flow of refugees.


    Pakistan has refused to accept more Afghan refugees, despite appeals from the

    international community.


    According to UN statistics, 166,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan so far this year. Last year 1.7 million returned. Another two million still live in Pakistan.


    In recent months the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region has seen several pitched battles between Afghan government forces and suspected Taliban fighters trying to make a comeback.


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