Taliban Stop Afghans Leaving Kabul
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Soldiers of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban ordered passengers off buses bound for Pakistan on Thursday, trying to stem a tide of refugees that is becoming a crisis for both countries.
More than 110,000 refugees have fled to Pakistan to escape a devastating drought and fighting in chaotic Afghanistan in recent months, crowding camps that are ill equipped to handle them.
Pakistan closed its border to Afghan refugees in December, and thousands gather every day at the giant steel gates of the main border crossing at Torkham, 125 miles east of Kabul, hoping to get through.
Many of the refugees from across Afghanistan come to Kabul and then take buses to the border, and Thursday marked the first time the Taliban have prevented them from making the trip.
``Soon we will send a team to Pakistan to try to find a way to solve this problem. Our people are desperate,″ said Abdul Majeed Omari, the Taliban’s minister of refugees.
``Right now it is not good for our people to go to the border and get stuck there,″ he added. ``We want them to stay in Kabul until we sort the problem out.″
Soldiers told refugees that only Afghans with passports and visas _ which very few possess _ were being allowed to cross into Pakistan, and said there was no point in going to Torkham.
``There is nowhere for people to stay in Torkham,″ said Mullah Daoud, a Taliban soldier patrolling the bus station. ``People have to sleep outside in the cold.″
In the daily turmoil at the border crossing, Taliban soldiers try to beat back would-be refugees with sticks, while soldiers on the Pakistan side try to force those who have crossed back into Afghanistan.
The United Nations has warned of a refugee crisis, with millions of Afghans on the move in search of food and water. Some are also fleeing fighting between the Taliban and an armed opposition.
Ghulam Saqi, who was ordered off a bus in Kabul, said he and his wife and six children left their home in the central Afghan town of Ghazni because of the drought.
``We need to go to Pakistan. We have to find something, somewhere,″ Saqi said.
But in Pakistan, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has issued an emergency appeal for international assistance with the refugee crisis, saying aid groups need more money to meet the demand.
Tens of thousands of refugees are living in squalor at the makeshift Jalozai camp in northwestern Pakistan, where winter temperatures drop below freezing at night. Most of the newest refugees have only tattered plastic sheets for shelter.
Dozens of children have died from the cold, according to refugees and aid workers. The UNHCR has transferred more than 60,000 refugees to another camp where they have erected tents and given blankets and clothing to the youngest and most vulnerable, but resources are limited.
Meanwhile, Muslim clerics in Pakistan petitioned diplomatic missions there Thursday to defy U.N. sanctions imposed last month against Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.
The sanctions were imposed to press the Taliban to hand over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden for trial either in the United States or in a third country.
Although not intended to hurt ordinary Afghans, they have sent the Afghan currency plummeting, driven up the cost of essential foods and heightened Afghans’ sense of isolation.