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Afghan children die in heat wave

BBC News
, May 9, 2001

Ten Afghan children have died in the last few days at a refugee camp in Pakistan because of heat stroke and dehydration. The deaths took place at the Jalozai camp near the border town of Peshawar, where 80,000 Afghan refugees are living in desperate conditions.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, who recently visited the camp, described the situation there as unacceptable.

However, Pakistan has turned down a request to register the refugees and move them to a better site.

Deaths warning

Javed Pervaiz, the health project director for Jalozai camp, said the children's deaths were caused by the lack of shelter, poor sanitation and nutrition. He said that if a current heat wave in the region continued, more deaths could be expected.

While aid agencies have given out some tents, many refugees are living under plastic sheeting with toilets situated nearby.

The UN says it cannot carry out widespread aid distribution in the camp without a proper screening process to separate genuine refugees from others.

But Pakistan says screening can take place only if the UN improves the situation of those afflicted by drought and conflict inside Afghanistan.

Closed border

The Pakistani authorities have made clear that they do not want to encourage more Afghans to cross the border as refugees.

Pakistan closed its border to new refugees about eight months ago and began deporting Afghans who now number more than two million.

The UN has criticised the deportations, but the Pakistani foreign ministry said they were not pushing the refugees back.

The UN wants to see a speedy solution to the plight of the Afghan refugees, especially at Jalozai, but the situation has yet to be resolved.

Earlier in the year, a number of deaths were reported at the camp due to poor conditions and the lack of shelter for the refugees.

Many of the refugees are fleeing a severe drought in Afghanistan as well as the country's protracted civil war.

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