Caritas Pakistan ready to aid Afghan refugees
by Shafique Khokhar

The number of people crossing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has doubled in recent days. The UN foresees the arrival of another half a million refugees. Two Pakistani soldiers killed at the border. Despite reassurances from Islamabad, security in the province of Balochistan remains unstable.

Quetta (AsiaNews) - After the Taliban takeover and the US withdrawal, which ended today, Caritas Pakistan is committed to providing hospitality to refugees from Afghanistan. The two countries share a border of 2,670 km; most of the crossings take place near the Pakistani city of Chaman.

In recent days images have emerged showing hundreds of people crowded at the border in the Afghan city of Spin Boldak. The border between the two locations had been closed for a week, only to reopen on August 21. Since then, local authorities report an "unprecedented" exodus.

According to sources on the ground, after the terrorist attacks claimed by Isis-K (Islamic State in Khorasan province) the number of refugees who crossed the Spin Boldak-Chaman border doubled. In these days, more than 20 thousand Afghan nationals then landed in Islamabad with 332 flights.

The Extraordinary Commissioner of Chaman said that the city administration and the police are looking for accommodation for the Afghan refugees. The Interior Ministry has determined that hotels and university campuses will be earmarked for reception. The Punjab government said it will provide housing for the refugees "on a temporary basis."

Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan, told AsiaNews that the Catholic organization is examining the situation and is ready to provide support to those most in need. He stressed that assistance will be provided following the Pakistani government guidelines.

Based on last year's data, Pakistan is already hosting nearly 1.5 million Afghan refugees. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is preparing for the worst in the coming months, predicting the arrival of at least another half-million people as the situation in Afghanistan "remains uncertain and can evolve rapidly."

On August 29, two Pakistani soldiers were killed by shots fired across the border. Pakistan's military reported that it was the first such attack since the Taliban seized power two weeks ago, and that Pakistani security forces responded by killing the attackers. However, the information is not verifiable by journalists or human rights organizations.

Pakistani army chief commander, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has assured that the border with Afghanistan is secure. Balochistan, where Chaman is located, is one of Pakistan's most turbulent provinces, subject to attacks by Baloch rebel groups and Islamist militants. Liaquat Shahwani, a spokesman for the local provincial government, said security at the border has been tightened.

 "There is no official warning for any terrorist attacks, but security forces are on alert and are guarding the border," Shahwani said. "There have been a few terrorist attacks in recent weeks, but the situation is under our control in Balochistan."