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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Afghan exodus still growing
Afghan refugees at Chamman on the Pakistan border
Pakistan has about two million Afghan refugees
More than one million Afghans have fled their homes, driven by food shortages and fear of US attacks.

The United Nations says that at least 15,000 refugees have entered Pakistan in the last week, despite attempts to close the border.

Seven refugee camps are being set up along Afghanistan's border with Iran in anticipation of a renewed exodus if the US launches attacks in its "war against terrorism".

An Afghan enters Pakistan
Some refugees still make it across the Pakistan border
Reports that the ruling Taleban have been rounding up young men to fight a holy war against the United States have added to the refugee numbers.

The BBC's Kate Clark says anyone capable of leaving Kabul has already left, fearing not just US attacks but the chaos and lawlessness that would follow in their wake.

Much of the Afghan capital is still in ruins after years of fighting.

Click here for map of the region

Now, with food supplies suspended, international aid workers withdrawn and winter on the way, relief agencies say millions face starvation.

Afghanistan's neighbours are trying to defend themselves against a looming humanitarian disaster.

Crisis brewing

Pakistan now has about two million Afghan refugees.

About 100,000 are reported to have fled from the Afghan city of Kandahar into Pakistan's south-western province of Baluchistan.

There are not walking skeletons in Afghanistan yet. But we do have people eating grass and animal fodder

Khaled Mansour, of the World Food Programme
Kandahar is where Osama Bin Laden, regarded by the US as the prime suspect in last week's attacks on New York and Washington, has his main residence. It is seen as a likely target.

About 5,000 refugees have camped at Chamman, on the border near Kandahar, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has sent a convoy of trucks with 2,000 tents and 6,000 blankets to the area.

In Sham Shatoo camp, 60km (40 miles) southeast of Peshawar, the number of refugees is expected to climb from 60,000 to 125,000.

Tajikistan has said it will take no refugees at all, because the republic already faces problems with its food supply.

Khaled Mansour, of the World Food Programme, said: "There are not walking skeletons in Afghanistan yet, thank God.

"But we do have people eating grass and animal fodder and people who have sold everything they have to buy food."

An Afghan Red Cross worker distributes help to needy farmers in Lashkara
The International Red Cross is still at work in Afghanistan
The WFP estimates that as many as four million people could face starvation in Afghanistan this winter.

The UN agency normally distributes 22,000 tonnes of food in Afghanistan every month. It now only has 15,000 tonnes - enough for up to three weeks.

Food supplies into Afghanistan were suspended on 12 September, the day after the attacks on the US.

Iranian fears

Iran has called on the United States to exercise caution before launching strikes, as thousands of Afghan refugees head for its border.

Tehran is already home to more than one million Afghan refugees.

The UNHCR said five refugee camps are to be set up along Iran's north-eastern border with Afghanistan and two others further south.

Osama Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden is prime suspect in the US terror attacks
The camps could hold up to 200,000 people.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan is currently targeting its efforts on helping hospitals, clinics and first aid centre.

The Red Cross has 1,000 Afghan staff still working in the country.

Robert Monin, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul, is now based at Peshawar in Pakistan.

He said: "We have enough medical supplies for another three to four weeks.

"For the time being we are confident that surgical and basic health care can be guaranteed in all the main cities and in more isolated areas where smaller clinics are to be found.

Food stocks

"First-aid posts are receiving a great deal of assistance from the Afghan Red Crescent Society."

ICRC food stocks in Afghanistan are being put at the disposal of those in greatest need, especially in Kabul and Herat.

The organisation's international staff, who withdrew to Pakistan last Sunday, are considering bringing help into the country from Turkmenistan and Iran.

ICRC workers in Afghanistan describe the population as being extremely frightened.

Mr Monin said: "It's obvious from what they say that fear is mounting."

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Oxfam's director, Barbara Stocking
"The situation in Afghanistan was dire even before last week"
See also:

18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
14 Sep 01 | South Asia
Aid agencies warn of Afghan crisis
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