For weeks now between 20,000 and 30,000 Afghans have been stuck on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, close to the border town of Chaman. The border has been closed since February 22. The population consists mainly of Pashtuns from the north of Afghanistan and Kutchis - Afghan nomads - from the south of the country.
While the Pashtuns have fled the ongoing discrimination and harrassment they have been facing from other ethnicities in the northern provinces, the Kutchis have left their seasonal grazing lands because of the long-term drought in the south of Afghanistan which has deprived them of their livestock.
"The conditions for these people in the so called 'waiting area', just over the official border crossing with Pakistan, are appalling", says Vickie Hawkins, MSF project co-ordinator in Chaman, "(Conditions are) so appalling that they recently organised a strike, a boycott of the limited assistance that is being provided to them. To cut themselves off from assistance was the only mechanism they had to draw attention to the situation they are in." Conditions are so appalling the refugees recently went on strike, refusing even the limited assistance currently available to them.
MSF, together with some other organisations, are working to provide basic health care, water and sanitation facilities. However, the level of assistance is kept to a bare minimum as neither the authorities nor the UNHCR want this sensitive border area to become a camp.
But the basic and crowded conditions are highly conducive to a cholera outbreak. MSF is readying itself for this possibility by planning a cholera treatment centre in the vicinity. Apart from assistance for the people in the 'waiting area', MSF staff - 6 expats and over 100 national staff - are providing basic health care, mother and child health, health education and measles vaccination in two of the five official campsite, Rhogani and Landee Karez, close to Chaman where a total of 71,000 registered refugees live.