Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 5 News List

UN office attacked by Afghans over slow repatriation

AFP , PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

Hundreds of Afghan refugees attacked a UN refugee agency office in northwest Pakistan in protest at delays in repatriating them, police and officials said yesterday.

The mob destroyed computers, iris-checking machines, furniture and a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) vehicle in the "sudden" riot late Wednesday in Peshawar near the border with Afghanistan, office chief Yaris Khan told reporters.

Khan said police had to disperse the crowd of between 300 and 600 at the registration center, which is processing thousands of refugees who have been ordered to leave Pakistan by the middle of this month.

"They did not give us any reason," he said.

But refugee Jalat Khan, who is waiting for his papers to be processed so he can return to the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, said the attackers had come from a nearby camp at Kachha Garhi to help out those in the queue.

"They reacted because they had seen their compatriots had been waiting for travel documents in hot weather for the past several days," he said.

"Our brothers vented their anger in our support."

Refugees have arrived from different camps across Pakistan to pass through the registration center in Peshawar, where they must undergo iris validation tests to stop them coming back through the porous border with Afghanistan.

"We have decided to let all those who are already at the centre go back to their country without iris testing," the UNHCR's Khan said. "This is being done because of the unusual situation triggered by the attack."

Officials said about 1,000 Afghans left the site early yesterday and the situation was now under control. A dozen policemen guarded the site yesterday while UNHCR staff collected the damaged equipment.

Around three million Afghans still live in Pakistan. Many have lived there for years, having fled the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Pakistan has ordered the closure of all refugee camps in its semi-autonomous tribal regions because of security concerns. It originally gave an Aug. 31 deadline but it has since given them until Sept. 15.

In a separate incident in the tribal areas yesterday, gunmen hijacked an official van and took hostage its two occupants.

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