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Pakistan puts off plan to shut Afghan refugee camp

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By Zeeshan Haider
Wed Jun 13, 2007

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani authorities have put off plans to shut down one of the oldest camps for Afghan refugees, saying its inhabitants have refused to go home or to be relocated, a government official said.

Pakistan had set June 15 as the deadline for the closure of Jungle Pir Alizai camp, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, set up after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

But Khalid Mahmood, commissioner for refugees in the province, said the deadline would be missed.

“As far as the deadline is concerned we are definitely not going to meet that,” he told Reuters late on Tuesday.

Two people were killed and five wounded in an exchange of fire between Pakistani security forces and refugees at the camp in May when authorities tried to demolish some of its houses.

Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghans for more than 25 years but now wants to close camps after complaints from Western and Afghan officials that Taliban militants launch cross-border attacks from bases on Pakistani soil.

Pakistani authorities say the refugee camps have turned into havens for the Taliban.

Nearly 3 million Afghans have gone home from Pakistan since 2002 but many remain.

Pakistan has a plan for the voluntary, gradual repatriation of about 2.5 million refugees over the next three years in line with an agreement with Afghanistan and the U.N. refugee agency.

It had aimed to close four camps this year, including Jungle Pir Alizai, 60 km (40 miles) west of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

But observers say it is an uphill task to persuade Afghans to go because of insecurity at home and also because a large number have set up small businesses in towns and cities across Pakistan.

The United Nations urged Pakistan last week not to force Afghans back, saying Afghanistan was already swamped with about 100,000 people recently evicted from Iran.

Despite missing this month’s deadline, Mahmood said authorities still hoped to shut down Jungle Pir Alizai and the other three camps earmarked for closure, and would try to persuade the inhabitants, through peaceful means, to get out.

“Now through the political process … the government is trying to close these camps as soon as possible this year.”

According to a 2005 census by the U.N. refugee agency, the Jungle Pir Alizai camp is home to 35,000 Afghans.

But thousands of Pakistani villagers fleeing drought and tribal feuds later moved to the camp, raising its total population to more than 100,000, residents say.
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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Written by afghandevnews

June 14, 2007 at 4:08 am

Posted in Refugees

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