Pakistan War Refugees Reluctant to Move into Camps

May 10th, 2009 - by admin

IRIN – 2009-05-10 08:58:02

ISLAMABAD (May 7, 2009) — Thousands of people displaced by fighting between government forces and militants in Swat Valley, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), have been pouring into the capital, Islamabad, but many are reluctant to move into camps for “cultural reasons.”

According to UNHCR figures, 462,000 of Pakistan’s 555,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) before the latest influx were living outside camps, often with relatives. Those coming into the capital who have no close relatives they can stay with are opting to rent whatever they can afford.

“I am renting one room for which we are being charged Rs 2000 [US$25] per month. Even if I find a job I can expect to earn only Rs 4000 [$50], so half my wages would go there,” said Afzal Khan, 40, who arrived in Islamabad from his village near Mingora, the principal city of Swat, on 5 May.

Khan accepts that it would be easier for him financially to move to a refugee camp, such as the Jallozai Camp near Peshawar where arrangements have been made to accommodate more people. But he says this is impossible “Because our women observe strict ‘purdah’ [veil-wearing tradition] and the thought of having them live in tents in close proximity to strangers is just inconceivable. There would be no privacy.”

Latif Khan, president of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) affectees committee, a body set up to campaign for IDP rights, told IRIN: “This is a concern for many of the displaced families. They do not want to move to camps for cultural reasons.”

Gulbano Bibi, 60, a grandmother who with her two sons and their families is currently living with relatives in Islamabad, however, says the problem is not one of ‘purdah’ alone.

“We have always lived with dignity, even though we are poor. The thought of moving to a camp and living at the mercy of others is just not something we can accept,” she said.

Two of Gulbano’s small grandchildren have for the past three days been going out to work to help their family make ends meet, but she insists: “They have no school to go to so they may as well work so we can save a little money and find a small house to rent.”

Such attitudes complicate the situation for IDPs. Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told IRIN: “These people need urgent help, because their situation is worsening by the day.”

She urged the government to establish a special task force on the IDP crisis, warning “the figure could touch the million mark soon.”

As international concern over the situation mounts, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was preparing to step up its already considerable humanitarian assistance to the region.

UNHCR head António Guterres said in a statement: “As part of the UN response, UNHCR is already sending humanitarian aid items to new camps which we are helping to set up in the Mardan and Swabi districts [in NWFP]. We are also assisting the authorities to establish two new reception centres, and two more are planned for newly displaced people on main routes adjacent to the conflict zone. We are also helping with their registration.”

Over the past four days the UNHCR has helped the authorities register nearly 45,000 people and establish 12 new registration points.

They are likely to be needed. The information minister for the NWFP provincial government, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, told the media: “We believe 500,000 more people could be displaced from the Swat area.”

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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