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Monday, October 08, 2001, updated at 09:39(GMT+8)

Roundup: Relief Flocks Into Iran as Afghan Refugee Crisis Looms

International emergency relief has been flowing into Iran during the past days as hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees have fled home for fear of possible US military strikes.

Convoys and planes carrying humanitarian aid from international relief agencies and non-governmental organizations have rolled into Iran's eastern provinces for refugees both inside Iran and Afghanistan, the two neighbors sharing 900-kilometer-long border.

Iran is preparing for the scenario of a flock of some 400,000 Afghans if the United States launches military operations to revenge the September 11 terror attacks, in which Afghanistan is accused of harboring Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect of the terror attacks.

Tehran has acknowledged that it cannot by itself afford the consequences of a new influx of refugees, triggered by the possible military attacks on Afghanistan.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari has appealed to international organizations for help, citing that "in case the crisis intensifies and the Afghan refugees flock toward Iran, the Islamic republic would not be able to cope alone with the disastrous situation."

International groups responded quickly and positively to Lari's call by pouring aid into Iran, which has already accommodated some 2.8 million Afghan refugees.

A plane carrying 30 tons of medicine and health products from the United Nations International Childern's Fund (UNICEF) Friday arrived in Mashhad, capital city of Iranian northeastern Khorasan province bordering Afghanistan.

The aid is to be ferried by Afghan donkeys to the city of Herat in war-torn Afghanistan.

The package, valued at 150,000 U.S. dollars, consists of 4,000 blankets, 26,495 liters of water, 3,000 water treatment tablets and other health products. It is designed for 2.5 million refugees for three months.

The UNICEF also said on Saturday that it will send an extra 80 tons of relief aid, worth some 300,000 dollars, to Mashhad for potential Afghan refugees.

Meanwhile, U.N. World Food Program (WFP) envoy to Iran Marius de Gaay Fortman said here Thursday that 100 tons of flour will be airlifted to Mashhad, then be transported to Herat by private lorries.

In a related development, another consignment containing some 900 tents donated by Britain arrived in Mashhad Saturday, three days after its first consignment, which included over 400 family- size tents.

All these tents, each designed to provide shelter for five to eight people, are part of 25 million English pounds (about 37.5 million dollars) of aid pledged for the refugees last month by the British government.

The Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a Brussels-based international volunteers group, has also made its contribution by sending two consignments of medicine and sanitary goods for Afghan refugees.

MSF envoy in Iran Brono Jochum said Wednesday that each of the consignment would meet monthly requirements of 30,000 people.

He said that with the shipment of the consignment, MSF desert camps would be set up in any region which has a concentration of Afghan refugees, adding that in case of any human catastrophe, the MSF would rush necessary relief aid to the area by charter planes.

Jochum also noted that the organization has received permits from officials in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan- Baluchestan to operate with a three-member team, saying that "this is a sign of good cooperation between an international non- governmental organization and the Iranian government."

The U.S. will also use, for the first time, the Iranian territory to ferry humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.

It is reported that a U.S. refugee committee is preparing to send a four-person team to Iran to assess humanitarian needs at the refugee camps along the Iran-Afghanistan border.

While expressing readiness to help those Afghans forced to leave their homes, Iran has said that it would take no more refugees inside the country.

Agreeing to cooperate with relief agencies for stocking and conveying aids to Afghan refugees, Iran insists that any new camps to be set up near the border should be inside Afghanistan.

Iran has started to seal off its eastern border with Afghanistan in Khorasan Province with electronic devices to block the flow of Afghan refugees in case of U.S. assaults, a commander of the border guards said Wednesday.

The official added that seven regiments have been deployed along the Khorasan border and efforts are under way to bring security to the border province of Sistan-Baluchestan.

Governor General of Khorasan Province Mohsen Mehralizadeh said on Saturday that Iran would help the Afghan refugees find shelter in the Afghan areas near the border with Iran, adding that eight camps have been set up along Iran's eastern borders inside Afghan territory to house possible Afghan refugees.

Khorasan is now hosting about 400,000 Afghan refugees, more than half of them without residence permits.

But Iran has been urged to extend once again their help to Afghan refugees as the situation of the Afghan people is expected to plunge into a plight due to the coming harsh winter and the looming conflict in the country.

Top U.N. emergency relief coordinator Kenzo Oshima has called on the Iranian government to open its sealed borders to Afghan refugees.

Last Sunday, Afghan mission chief of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filipp Grandi expressed hope that Iran and the Iranian people will allow the homeless to be assisted inside Iran or at least in border areas.

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International emergency relief has been flowing into Iran during the past days as hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees have fled home for fear of possible US military strikes.

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