Peshawar, Pakistan, November 12, 2001 — The international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today expressed its opposition to the relocation of some 70,000 Afghan refugees from Jalozai camp to new sites in Bajaur and other tribal areas in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Whereas Jalozai, south of Peshawar, provides the Afghans with at least minimal safety, the new sites are unacceptably close to the Afghan border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plans to start relocating refugees this Wednesday, to begin with to Kotkai camp in Bajaur, less than five kilometers from the border of a country at war.
"The status of the refugees remains unclear," says Tim Pitt, MSF Head of Mission in Pakistan. "They are now labeled Externally Displaced People, but nobody knows what this means in terms of rights and obligations. Moving them so close to the border not only puts their lives at risk, we also fear that it will make it easier for them to be pushed the last couple of kilometers back into Afghanistan in the near future."
MSF has been among the very few aid organizations able to assist the people of Jalozai camp. Though conditions are difficult, over the past year, MSF's teams of doctors, nurses, and technical staff in Jalozai have provided a package of health care, including medical screening, vaccination, supplementary feeding for malnourished children and treatment of common diseases.
MSF's Tim Pitt says there is a clear difference between the situation near the Chaman crossing in southwestern Pakistan, where it is also proposed that refugees should be re-located and the one at Jalozai. "At Chaman, people are living too close to the border and we fully support the relocation to much safer sites at Roghani. But in the case of Jalozai the movement is in exactly the opposite direction. We absolutely fail to see any compelling reason for transporting tens of thousands to a region that is isolated from everything except warfare. In addition, we are very concerned that moving these people into almost uniquely Pashtu areas may lead to serious ethnic confrontations."
Pitt added that MSF would seek to honor its commitment to the people of Jalozai camp in new locations, but it would do so only under serious protest against what he calls an "utterly inhumane policy and practice."