of thousands of civilians require immediate international humanitarian
assistance as a result of escalating fighting on both sides of the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border since the beginning of August, Amnesty
International said today.
More than 20,000 people have fled from Pakistan to eastern
Afghanistan to avoid fighting between government forces and pro-Taleban
insurgents in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA),
while FATA authorities have asked Afghan refugees in Bajaur Agency to
leave the area.
"Both the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as
international forces operating in Afghanistan, have a legal obligation
to provide safe passage, consistent security and humanitarian
assistance to the refugees and internally displaced people on both
sides of the border. They should also ensure that local and
international humanitarian agencies are able to work safely in
providing assistance to those in need," said Sam Zarifi, Asia Director
at Amnesty International.
"The continued fighting in southern Afghanistan and the more recent
conflict in northern Pakistan are creating a very dangerous situation
in the region for civilians trying to find refuge. With the end of the
Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there is an expectation that even more
civilians will leave their homes to avoid the fighting."
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR), since mid September more than 600 families have fled fighting
in Bajaur Agency in the FATA, where in recent months a Pakistani
military campaign against anti-government insurgents has increased
tensions. This is in addition to the 3,364 families which took refuge
in the districts of Shigal, Marawara, Dangam, and other areas of
Afghanistan’s Kunar province in early August.
UNHCR reports that the majority of the families fleeing Pakistan are
living with tribal relatives or host families in Kunar but some 200
families are living in the open. According to the International
Committee of the Red Cross, the majority of the displaced from Bajaur
Agency are women and children.
“These refugees could be jumping out of the frying pan and into the
fire. They are escaping fighting in Pakistan but they are at risk of
being caught in the crossfire of the current fighting in Afghanistan
between coalition forces and the Taleban and other anti-government
groups,” said Zarifi.
Humanitarian assistance to the Pakistani refugees in Kunar province
is being sent via the Afghan government because routes to the area, and
the area itself, are not safe for direct humanitarian response.
It is essential that all government and international security
forces in Afghanistan, as well as anti-government forces, ensure that
free and safe passage of humanitarian assistance to these vulnerable
refugees is made a priority, especially as the winter months approach.
Particular attention should be given to groups with special protection
needs, such as women, children, and the elderly.
"People who have fled the fighting, whether they have crossed the
border or not, have the right not to be forced to return to Bajaur or
other FATA areas and Afghans in the FATA are offered safe alternatives
to returning to Afghanistan’s conflict-ridden south, until the security
situation has improved,” said Zarifi.
The armed conflict in Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas and Swat District of the North West Frontier Province
began in early August but intensified in September. More than 250,000
people have reportedly been displaced.