May 17th, 2007 05:08 EST
Pakistan: Unrest at Refugee Camp
Reacting to recent unrest at a refugee camp in south-western Pakistan, the United Nations today appealed for calm ahead of next month's planned closure of the facility.
Tensions were sparked on Wednesday at Jungle Pir Alizai camp in Killa Abduallah district of Balochistan province after local authorities said they were bulldozing some walls of an uninhabited compound in the camp as a first step toward closing it. Camp residents started throwing stones in protest, tear gas was fired, and the authorities withdrew from the scene, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which said it could not confirm casualties.
“We regret the outbreak of violence at Jungle Pir Alizai camp,” said UNHCR's Representative in Pakistan, Guenet Guebre-Christos. “While we recognize the Government's right to close camps on its soil for security reasons, we also urge the authorities and Afghans to do so in a peaceful way, to preserve the goodwill that has developed between them over the last 27 years.”
She added that UNHCR was lending its good offices to offer a way out through voluntary repatriation with enhanced assistance averaging $100 per person, or relocation with transport to and reception facilities at an existing camp in Pakistan.
“As remaining in the camp marked for closure is not an option, we strongly appeal to Afghans that they should avail the opportunity either to relocate to an existing refugee camp or chose voluntary repatriation with UNHCR assistance.”
UNHCR has not been able to access Jungle Pir Alizai camp since mid-2005 – a year after the Pakistan Government first announced that the camp would be closed for security reasons. The closure deadline is set for 15 June.
A census in 2005 counted some 35,000 Afghans living in the camp, including many who claimed to be from the local tribes in Pakistan. Afghans affected by the closure of the camp have been given two choices – to voluntarily repatriate with UNHCR assistance, or to relocate to the existing Ghazgai Minara camp in Balochistan's Loralai district, where they will receive primary education, basic healthcare, water and sanitation facilities.
More than 3 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR assistance since 2002. Over 2.15 million registered Afghans remain in Pakistan today.