MSF Calls on Iranian Authorities to Remove Obstacles to Aid Operations in Afghanistan

New York/Paris, December 5, 2001 — Approximately 2,000 newly displaced Afghans have arrived over the past ten days in camps installed by Iranian authorities across the border inside Afghanistan, near the town of Zaranj in Nimruz province. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) relief teams have not received permission to distribute shelter materials, blankets, and food to these people.

MSF is working in these camps, known as Makaki and Mile 46, and has requested authorization to begin distribution of desperately needed relief items to the newly arrived displaced people. The camps contain populations of 5,000 people each and are located four kilometers from the Iranian border inside Afghanistan. The Iranian Red Cross has refused to register the new arrivals.

During this past Sunday night, three children, aged one to six died from hunger, cold, and exhaustion. Without shelter, these displaced persons some of whom have come from regions far away—Kandahar in particular—have resorted to digging holes in the ground in order to protect themselves from the sub-zero night temperatures and sandstorms. MSF fears that their survival is at risk unless they receive assistance.

Following the events of September 11, the Iranian authorities have publicly announced the closure of their border with Afghanistan, but also confirmed their willingness to facilitate aid on Afghan territory. On several occasions since the establishment of the camps about two months ago, however, Iranian forces fired shots at families who tried to cross the border. The conclusion can only be that not only is the border closed for refugees, but also that the provision of aid from Iran inside Afghanistan is frustrated by obstacles imposed by the Iranian authorities.

"This population is trapped inside Afghanistan with no way out and many dangers inside," states Pierre Salignon, director of operations for MSF in Iran and Afghanistan. "Some families who arrive in Mile 46 have walked three months before they reached the camp. They know that they cannot cross the border to Iran but they also know that at least they can receive some assistance. They are so desperate. Every day, some 20 newcomers arrive in these camps by truck, sometimes more. They say that more people are on the way, some walking to the border, some settling on the way, because they are too poor or too weak to go further."

A team of 12 international and about 10 Iranian and Afghan MSF relief workers are working in Makaki and Mile 46 camps to provide medical and nutritional aid to the displaced. In the coming days, the team will also start a project in Zaranj.