Salesians Bracing for Closure of Refugee Camps in Pakistan

Obliges Us to Intensify Our Efforts, Says Priest

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QUETTA, Pakistan, APRIL 25, 2004 ( A U.N. official’s decision to close 15 refugee camps by September is prompting the Salesians to step up their own relief efforts.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, announced the closure of the camps in Pakistan which house about 200,000 Afghans.

Father Peter Zago, a Salesian working in the camps, said that «the aim of the United Nations is to facilitate their return to their own country.»

Yet, «the situation of insecurity in [Afghanistan] and the uncertainty of finding homes and work are not encouraging the masses of people who prefer to remain and to live in poverty around the two cities of Quetta and Peshawar,» he told the Salesian news agency.

In these two centers the refugees «find some opportunity for manual work, some space for a tent with water and some services. In addition, the children can beg and collect rubbish which the families can use or recycle,» Father Zago said.

The Salesians are offering the children three hours of schooling in the morning and a meal. In the afternoon they are free for their collecting.

«The withdrawal by the United Nations of its services obliges us to intensify our efforts,» Father Zago said. «At present we are dealing with 750 children in our two Salesian schools and another 1,800 little students in three Afghan schools.»

Pakistan now has more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees who have fled their homeland during a quarter-century of war and conflict. More than a million are in the camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border.

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