PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan refused Sunday to give refugee status to tens of thousands of Afghans living in squalor in the northwest, despite pleas from the United Nations.
Pakistan has no money, is trying to revive its flagging economy and cannot afford the 2 million Afghan refugees already living here, said Iftikar Hussain Shah, governor of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.
For months, the United Nations has been pleading with Pakistan to allow it to register the 80,000 Afghan refugees living in Jalozai Refugee Camp, a giant dust bowl with no water and poor sanitation where refugees are dying daily. Refugees must be registered in order to receive aid.
The United Nations has called Afghanistan a humanitarian catastrophe. There are an estimated 500,000 people on the move inside Afghanistan.
Driven from their homes by the worst drought in living memory and a relentless civil war, more than 200,000 new Afghan refugees have arrived in Pakistan since September alone.
Pakistan sealed its borders in January and has refused to officially accept new Afghan refugees, but tens of thousands of Afghans have slipped across the porous border, often making a torturous journey over mountain passes and bribing Pakistani security forces.
Pakistan is not the only country to turn away Afghans. None of Afghanistan's neighbors are accepting new refugees.
Iran also has sealed its borders, and there are reports of thousands of Afghan refugees being forcibly evicted. An estimated 10,000 Afghan refugees are stranded in a dry riverbed on the border with Tajikistan.
Shah said Pakistan wants the United Nations to set up camps inside Afghanistan.
"We have our own economic and social problems," Shah said. "We cannot afford the burden of new refugees."