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Afghanistan's neighbors urged to open borders

With winter fast approaching the UN says millions of Afghans are at risk  

GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has called on Afghanistan's neighbors to open their borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to flee the fighting.

He stressed "the commitment made by coalition leaders to the Afghan people that the war is not against them, and that the humanitarian effort will remain a priority."

Lubbers, head of the U.N.'s refugee agency, asked neighboring states to open their borders to those in need of temporary protection and assistance.

"With the winter nearly upon us, millions of Afghans are in need of some type of humanitarian assistance," he said.

Refugees in Pakistan are allowed to receive an education, something stictly forbidden by the Taliban. CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon reports (November 8)

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"Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes, but continuing insecurity is hampering humanitarian efforts to help them inside Afghanistan. "At the same time, they are unable to seek refuge outside because all neighboring borders are officially closed. As a result, many desperate Afghans have nowhere to turn."

Afghanistan borders several countries: Pakistan to the east, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan to the northwest and Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China to the north.

Lubbers reported some progress was being made with Pakistan on making camps available for recent arrivals that accessed the country through back roads and mountain paths.

An estimated 135,000 people have arrived since September 11.

Aid 'pre-positioned'

The U.N. refugee agency said that in Iran, sites have been identified and humanitarian supplies "pre-positioned." The border, however, remains closed. Inside Afghanistan, there are a few makeshift camps near the borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

The agency has serious concerns over the security at these sites, in both Taliban and Northern Alliance territory.

UNHCR is looking into how it can continue its work inside Afghanistan, where the agency deals with more than 100 small, local NGOs (non governmental organizations) on projects aimed at helping returning refugees rebuild their lives.

The Taliban have called on the U.N. to help displaced Afghans.

But the U.N. has hit back at the Taliban, saying that they have been hindering humanitarian relief efforts.

Earlier in the week, U.N. Security Council President, Ambassador Patricia Durrant of Jamaica, called on the Taliban not to impede the aid effort, saying that the Council "deplored the looting of U.N. offices, and the Taliban's takeover of humanitarian relief sites, including food and supply warehouses."


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