asiaNet Eurasia Insight
"We are very much on alert," agency spokeswoman, Maki Shinohara told IRIN. "Our field team says the situation is becoming tense," she added. She said that many new arrivals at the Jalozai camp near Peshawar in the NWFP meant it was overflowing, and the agency had been trying to relocate them to a proper site. However, the only areas the government had granted permission for were in the tribal areas, she added.
UNHCR has already transferred over 5,000 refugees from Jalozai to the Kotkai camp in the Bajaur tribal agency of NWFP, about 175 km north of Peshawar, while over 14,000 have been transferred to Roghani from the Kili Faizo staging site at Chaman border. Those taken to Koktai were primarily ethnic Pashtuns, the same group which make up the core of Taliban support. UNHCR maintained that more than half of them were minors and there were at least 120 families who were headed by women.
An additional 300 people of mainly Tajik, Uzbek, and Turkmen origin would be transferred on Tuesday to the old Bagzai camp in Kurram agency, one of four sites there, and one of the few places where the government of Pakistan has agreed to settle the new arrivals, Shinohara explained. This would be the first transfer of new arrivals to Kurram, an area described as being more moderate and where provincial authorities felt confident the refugees would not be at risk, she added.
"Of course there is the operation part that we are concerned about, but the broader message we want to put out is that people should refrain from revenge and retaliatory acts against those people who find themselves in a minority situation due to ethnicity, tribal differences or political views," she said. "We hope the government will work with us in calming the situation so extremists are not allowed to destabilise the area," she added.
Downplaying the threat, the chairman of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, Afrasiab Khattak, told IRIN from Peshawar: "While I would agree there is a lot of resentment of the killings in Mazar-e Sharif, the people by and large will not resort to violence against refugees." He confirmed reports that last week in the village of Makeen in Waziristan in southern NWFP, local Wazir tribesman plundered the shops of refugees of Tajik and Uzbek origin and fired shots into the air.
Asked to comment on the incident, Khattak said: "I don't think this was a spontaneous event. The extremist elements that supported the Taliban in the past have become deeply frustrated." While in the past they played the Islamic card, they were now playing the ethnic one, he explained.
Meanwhile, in a related development, UNHCR said on Monday that an increasing number of Afghans gathered at the southern Chaman border crossing this weekend, with over 6,000 people camped out on Sunday in no-man's land between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Additionally, there were about 3,000 people at the Kilo Faizo staging site. The agency is concerned about those staying outside Kilo Faizo, including many women and children spending nights in the open, without adequate clothing, shelter or food in sub-zero temperatures, hoping to cross the border.
The majority of refugees registered at the Chaman border were from Spin Buldak, as well as Kandahar, where US-led retaliatory strikes continue to intensify, forcing many to flee. Asked if they expected a greater influx, Shinohara said the situation was quite confusing, but there were an increasing number of people trying to get over. "We are certainly trying to prepare for it," she said. "We worry more and more people from Kandahar could come across as the situation in the city deteriorates," she warned.
According to UNHCR figures, over 150,000 additional Afghans have crossed into Pakistan since 11 September.