(New York) -- The government of Pakistan should halt plans to set up refugee camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas close to the Afghanistan border, Human Rights Watch said in a new backgrounder on refugees released today.

Human Rights Watch also cautioned against a global backlash against migrants and refugees in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"The backlash against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants throughout the world is a serious side effect of the September 11 attacks," said Rachael Reilly, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch. "While governments have legitimate security concerns, there must be a balance with human rights and refugee protection standards. Otherwise, not only Afghans, but many other refugees and asylum seekers may be unable to find the refuge they so desperately need."

Human Rights Watch called on countries neighboring Afghanistan to keep borders open to Afghan refugees in accordance with their international obligations. The backgrounder also urged the international community to work with host countries and the United Nations to put in place border mechanisms to separate armed elements from civilian refugees.

Human Rights Watch urged donor governments to ensure that urgently needed humanitarian assistance reaches those most in need in Afghanistan. This depends in part on the cooperation of the Taliban to guarantee the security of humanitarian workers. For information about attacks on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, see the Human Rights Watch press release Afghanistan: Attacks on Aid Increasing.

"Time is running out for people in Afghanistan," said Reilly. "Winter is fast approaching and thousands of people, especially women and children, are facing starvation. At the same time refugees are blocked from fleeing because neighboring countries continue to close their borders. The international community and neighboring countries must act now to avert a humanitarian disaster."

Although the influx of refugees into neighboring countries has been smaller than expected, refugees may be deterred by border closures, as well as the high cost of transport and smugglers fees needed to enter unofficially. Reilly also raised concerns about the risks posed to refugees forced to enter Pakistan by heavily mined unofficial routes and passes.

The backgrounder also traced new immigration legislation and anti-terrorism measures introduced by countries around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and various other European Union countries in response to the September 11 attacks.

Printer Friendly PDF version - 19 Pages is available here.