More than 360,000 people have fled fighting between the Pakistan military and Taliban in little more than a week and that number could double by the end of the year, UN officials said today.
The humanitarian news and analysis service, IRIN, filed the following report.
Khurram Khan, 11, from the Kabal area of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where fighting between government troops and militants has displaced tens of thousands of civilians, was unable to attend school last year (after the Taliban blew it up) and may not be able to go in the near future either.
Like many others, he and his family have been forced to flee some 500 km to Lahore in eastern Pakistan.
Khurram’s father has no job. The family’s meager savings were spent getting down to Lahore and they have been forced to rent a home because the relatives they had planned to move in with were already inundated with others from Swat. Khurram has been sent out onto the streets to work to earn money for his family.
The provincial government in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) says 150,000-200,000 people have already moved out of their homes to safer locations.
The government’s information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, has told the media 300,000 more may follow and called for international help to avert a “calamity.” He also said the NWFP government lacked the resources to cope on its own.
“To date, more than 83,000 internally placed persons (IDPs) from Buner, Dir, and Swat have been registered from the new influx – some 5,000 staying in three new camps, and more than 78,000 who are renting houses or staying with host families,” the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said, without specifying exactly where these people were staying.
The number continues to increase by the day, and is adding to the 555,000 people already displaced in Pakistan by conflict.
The vast majority of the earlier arrivals – more than 462,000 – are staying in rented accommodation or with host families. Another 93,000 are staying in 11 camps supported by UNHCR, other UN humanitarian agencies, NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent, according to the UNHCR.
“The new arrivals are going to place huge additional pressure on resources,” UN spokesperson Ron Redmond said in Geneva. Outside NWFP, in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and other urban centres of the Punjab, UNHCR has registered a further 40,000 IDPs, mainly from Bajaur, Mohmand and Swat, over the past two weeks.
Others are heading to new UNHCR camps set up in Swabi and Mardan districts in NWFP.
“We came to Lahore because I thought it may be easier to find work in a big city. But jobs are very hard to come by. My daughter, Duriya Bibi, 12, has taken on a job washing dishes at a home because we just cannot survive without at least some income,” said Mohammad Ameer, 40, from Buner (Swat Valley).
The family’s situation is worse than they had anticipated because they had to pay more than $320 in transport to reach Lahore. The journey would usually cost half that amount, but Ameer said: “When we came three days ago all the roads out of Buner were clogged. People scrambled to board buses or trucks or rickshaws, and the transporters demanded extra to carry people down.”
“No one has offered help. The rents are high and we can’t afford them,” said Shehzad Khan, 25, from Swat.
Meanwhile, calls for help have come from different quarters. “We have a humanitarian crisis. More must be done to help the IDPs,” Mussarat Hilally, vice-chairperson of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in the NWFP, told IRIN.
Thousands of children are without schools to go to; many families live in inadequate accommodation; food shortages have been reported; and, according to Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, one of Pakistan’s best known philanthropic workers, “there is an urgent need for action.”