MSF asks that Iranian authorities remove obstacles to aid operations in Afghanistan

Paris - Over the past ten days, approximately 2,000 newly displaced Afghans have arrived in camps installed by Iranian authorities across the border inside Afghanistan, near the town of Zaranj in Nimruz province. 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 authorisation to begin distribution of desperately needed relief items to the newly arrived displaced people.

The camps each contain populations of 5,000 people and are located four kilometers from the Iranian border inside Afghanistan. The Iranian Red Cross has refused to register the new arrivals. During the night of December 2-3, 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 publically announced the closure of their border with Afghanistan, but also confirmed their willingness to facilitate aid on Afghan territory.

However on several occasions since the establishment of the camps about two months ago, Iranian forces have fired shots at families who have tried to cross the border into Iran. 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," said 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.