UN worried for fate of Afghans driven from Pakistan

GENEVA: Many of the Afghan families being driven out of Pakistan have no homes to return to and will struggle to feed themselves through the harsh winter, the United Nations warned on Friday.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 370,000 people have returned to Afghanistan since October 3, when Pakistan issued an ultimatum to the 1.7 million Afghans it says are living illegally in the country.
“There are no open arms for these families,” said Hsiao-Wei Lee, Afghanistan country director for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), who recently travelled to a border crossing to observe the distribution of food aid.
“Many of them have not heard back from their relatives (in Afghanistan).
“Those who did were told there is no space for them or that there was too little to share.”
Islamabad set a November 1 deadline for the voluntary return of all undocumented Afghans in Pakistan to their country of origin.
The WPF says the mass arrivals are adding to Afghanistan’s ongoing humanitarian crisis, with about 16 million people already facing acute hunger this winter.
“They are forced to return to Afghanistan at the worst possible time,” Lee told a press briefing in Geneva via video-link from Kabul.
“The majority of the people that I met had been outside of Afghanistan for 30 or more years,” Lee said after the border visit.
She said some of the returnees she met had been born in Pakistan and had never set foot in Afghanistan.
Even family members and communities who wanted to help would struggle to do so, because resources are so stretched, she said.
The WFP has provided 250,000 returnees at the border with food and cash but needs to be able to help at least one million in total, Lee said.
She said the WFP has received only $100 million of the $950 million required for its overall Afghanistan operations in the next six months.
It needs $28 million for its Afghan returnees programme.
Lee said many returnees were hoping to reach the Afghan cities of Jalalabad and Kandahar but some would not be able to due to winter conditions.

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