Need for Humanitarian Assistance Grows as Displaced Pakistanis Return home
07 Aug 2009 - Even as thousands of displaced Pakistani families head home to the Swat district, thousands more are still fleeing violence elsewhere in the country’s volatile northwest, according to IRC witnesses.
“Last week the IRC saw around 10,000 people fleeing continued fighting in the northwestern Swat, Bajaur and Dir areas, streaming into one camp alone,” said Mike Young, the IRC’s Pakistan country representative. “They are all from areas the government confirms are dangerous due to ongoing army campaigns against the Taliban. So the demand for basic humanitarian assistance – like shelter, food, water and sanitation, healthcare, and education – remains huge.”
Meanwhile, the fate of many displaced people who have attempted to return home is unclear. Reports indicate that many of them have not been able to reach their home villages. Convoys of returnees are sometimes stopped at military checkpoints or cannot proceed because of security concerns. Witnesses speak of returnees stranded in Mingora, Swat’s main town, unable to travel farther. Others are moving back to safer areas outside the conflict areas. The government is now considering establishing camps inside Swat and Buner for displaced people who are unable to reach their homes or who have been affected by the continuing violence.
“It’s apparent that many villages in Swat and elsewhere remain unsafe,” Young said. “In southern Swat one of our teams recently observed active fighting not far outside the main town of Mingora. We have also heard stories from displaced people who have tried to return home only to encounter the Taliban. Some of them have had family members killed.”
Many displaced people worry that they will not receive the assistance promised to them by the government and that they will not be able to buy food and supplies from local markets because of curfews and checkpoints, Young said.
“The IRC is concerned that people are being pushed to return too fast to areas which are unsafe or don’t have the services to support them. Return is real but very fragile.”
Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is preparing another major offensive, targeting the Taliban in South Waziristan. Nearly100,000 people have already been displaced by the fighting there and it is estimated that another 200,000 to 400,000 people may be forced to flee the escalating violence in the coming months.
The IRC continues to provide life-saving services like health care and clean water to tens of thousands of displaced people, as well as offering education, rights protection and other important services.
Young stressed that the IRC desperately needs continued financial support for humanitarian aid and recovery programs in order to help people displaced by the crisis.
“The IRC intends to help the displaced get from harm to home – and that job isn’t over yet by a long shot.”