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Fearful Afghans race to borders

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghans continued fleeing their country on Sunday as fears grew of a U.S.-led retaliation for the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, damaged the Pentagon and left thousands of people dead or missing.

Afghanistan is bordered on the east and south by Pakistan, the west by Iran, the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and, on a sliver in the northeast, by China.

Sources close to the Iranian government say up to 10,000 Afghans may have entered Iran in the past few days. Iran is already home to at least 2 million Afghan refugees who fled warfare in their country over the past 22 years.

Iranian officials said Sunday the country is no longer allowing Afghan refugees over the border, but it will permit U.N. relief workers to cross over to Afghanistan to go to places where refugees are massing. Aid workers will provide tents, water and food.

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Country profile: Afghanistan  

CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office is gravely concerned that the flight of Afghans into Pakistan could be tremendous.

Pakistan has closed its border with Afghanistan, making it difficult for people to get through. But the border is porous and people can move through it without going through checkpoints.

The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance is reporting no refugee flow out of the northern area of Afghanistan.

Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, commenting on CNN about the reports of Afghans fleeing to Pakistan and Iran, said "citizens are in fear of retaliation or a military operation" and are trying to leave Afghanistan en masse.

Many residents of the Afghan capital, Kabul, have begun evacuating the city. Most aid workers, reporters and diplomats have already left, with the United Nations pulling out its entire international staff Thursday.

Newspapers in Pakistan said the number of people arriving from Afghanistan had risen considerably in the past two days, swelling already-crowded refugee camps along the border.

Afghanistan has faced war for more than two decades and for the past three years has suffered a major drought that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their villages in search of food.

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