Posted by: Christian | January 2, 2008

Pakistani Refugees Fleeing to Afghanistan

January 3, 2008.

According to a report from Bakhtar News Agency over 3000 Pakistani refugees from the Kurram Agency have arrived in Afghanistan over the last two days:

These people migrated to Afghanistan due to the worsening security situation and ongoing sectarian clashes in the agency.

Din Mohammad Darvesh spokesman of Paktia governor told on Tuesday some 500 families have migrated to these two districts of the province. Darvesh said the numbers of refugees were increasing day by day and they have stayed at barren land having no accessibility to basic facilities.

“Heaters, shawls and tents have been sent from Gardiz for the refugees but it does not cater to the needs of refugees”, he informed.

He said a number of refugees mostly women and children were suffering from various ailments due to the harsh winter here.

Pic from boell.de: Paktia Province, Eastern Afghanistan.
Paktia
I don’t want to overstate the importance of this first significant, and hopefully last, wave of refugees from Pakistan. Pashtuns on either side of the Afghan-Pak border don’t see the Durand Line as an absolute obstacle to their movement. But these refugees from the Kurram Agency wouldn’t leave their homes in the middle of winter unless they felt that their lives were at risk. [note: In April of last year conflict flared up in Kurram Agency. This Wikipedia article on the Kurram Agency conflict seems a wee tad Shia-biased but it has many links to articles by reputable reporters and news outlets.] The Economist wrote up the conflict, among other crises, thusly:

In all the fuss, sectarian bloodletting last week in Kurram, another tribal agency, barely merited a mention in the nation’s press. Only 40 Sunnis and Shias were reported killed.

Kurram Agency

The most recent conflict in Kurram Agency started at the end of December, according to Dawn. The basic facts, analysis free, are provided by the PakTribune.

One important claim is being made by a writer for the Daily Times who claims that the refugees fleeing Pakistan are originally from Afghanistan or are Kuchis (nomads). I’m not a Pakistan expert but I’m quite sure that people fleeing their homes (albeit possibly temporary) in winter for a refugee camp in another country is not a good sign.

I hope that this crisis eases and these people may return to their homes. And I hope that no further refugees need to flee Pakistan. But I also hope that those concerned parties come up with a contingency plan for large-scale refugee flows from Pakistan. I wrote about this “nightmare scenario” last April in this blog post.

Update: Via Registan.net, a Washington Times article from this morning gives more info on the refugee situation in Eastern Afghanistan, specifically Khost. US Army Colonel Schweitzer and Khost governor Arsallah Jamal held a joint video conference from Afghanistan with reporters at the Pentagon. The short version is that the refugees in Khost are returnees who once fled to Pakistan. They are staying with relatives, not in refugee camps. Colonel Schartz also points out that security in Khost was much improved in 2007 and that six times as much development aid made its way to Khost than in the previous year, perhaps facilitating the return of refugees from Pakistan. But the deteriorating situation in Pakistan was still cited as a motivating factor for the refugees. No word on Paktia though.

Update#2: Paktia governor Abdul Rahman Mangul says that of 480 families who have fled to Paktia, only 20-30 are Afghans.

Update#3: The situation seems to be getting the attention it deserves, according to a UN news agency. The UNHCR, The World Food Program and Afghan government officials at all levels of government are coordinating their efforts. 3000 refugees can likely be easily managed. But what number is beyond their capabilities with present resources? Hopefully we don’t have to find out the answer to that hypothetical question.


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