Afghan camps 'to close by August'
7. Februaryy 2007, 15:33

By Barbara Plett, BBC News
Pakistan has announced it will close four Afghan refugee camps in its border provinces by the end of August. The decision was made by a commission that also includes representatives from Afghanistan and the UN refugee agency.

This is part of an ongoing project to repatriate some 2.5m Afghans who have taken refuge in camps in Pakistan over nearly three decades.

But the Pakistani government has recently been stressing that these camps are also a security risk.

Decades of conflict

Around 300,000 people live in the four refugee camps.

Two are located in the North-West Frontier Province, and two in the province of Balochistan.

Katchagari and Jungle Pir Alizai in Balochistan are to close by 15 June and Jalozai and Girdi Jungle will close by 31 August.

The refugees will be given assistance to return to Afghanistan if they want to, or they will be relocated to other camps.

Afghans took refuge in Pakistan to escape decades of conflict in their home country.

In recent months the Pakistani government and the UN have registered around 2m refugees.

Sense of urgency

Pakistan clearly sees this as another step towards sending all the Afghans home.

"The ultimate goal is to repatriate all Afghan refugees now registered in Pakistan in three years, ending December 2009," said Sardar Yar Muhammed Rind, the government minister responsible for refugees.

Despite promises of help, many refugees do not want to return because they do not have land, shelter or jobs in Afghanistan.

But Pakistan has injected a new sense of urgency into the matter.

Increasingly Afghan and Western officials accuse it of harbouring Taleban insurgents who fight in Afghanistan.

The government here says the camps near the border do provide a sanctuary and should be removed.

UN officials have recognised the security concerns but stress that authorities must also recognise humanitarian needs.

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