MSF expresses grave concern for Afghan refugees

Returning Afghan refugees threatened by drought, epidemics and fighting
Press release: Peshawar/Amsterdam, September 15th 2000 - On the eve of the visit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, the medical aid agency Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) expresses its grave concern for the refugees returning to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan. During the visit of Ms. Ogata, MSF will state that the situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate further in the coming months making it more difficult for the refugees to return.

The repatriation programme from Iran to Afghanistan, agreed upon by the UNHCR and the government of Iran, plans to assist over 100,000 Afghans in returning home during a six month period finishing on October 8. Afghan refugees living in Pakistan are being facilitated by UNHCR to return home. Once in their home country, the refugees are joining the people of Afghanistan in an increasingly precarious situation that is already having an enormously devastating effect on the country.

The people in Afghanistan are facing a grim situation. A severe drought has caused a serious food crisis in certain provinces, affecting millions of Afghans. Afghanistan also continues to face outbreaks of epidemic diseases. MSF is already responding to several cholera outbreaks in different parts of the country. Renewed fighting in the north is forcing tens of thousands to flee. The growing insecurities in other parts of the country have worsened the fate of the population and makes it more difficult for aid agencies to provide humanitarian assistance. The returning refugees arrive in a country where thousands of people are again fleeing. Over 10,000 people have fled to the western city of Herat and are living in deprived conditions in poorly equipped camps.

"At our project sites in Kandahar, Herat and Badghis, we see the situation deteriorating by the day. In response to the food crisis, MSF is establishing up to six supplementary feeding centres in the feeding centres where we are working. However, the needs are great in all parts of the country and we are concerned that a large number of the Afghan population will not have access to the basic aid they require." says Fouad Hikmat, Country Manager for MSF-Afghanistan in Peshawar.

MSF is deeply concerned with the increased vulnerability of the Afghan people, including the internally displaced and the returning refugees since their country is suffering from severe drought, on-going fighting and outbreaks of diseases. Given these circumstances and the lack of protection and safety, MSF feels that the Afghan refugees cannot return home in safety and dignity.

MSF has been working in Afghanistan since 1980 and works in both Taliban-controlled and Alliance-controlled areas providing health care.