Amid the onslaught of media reports on the current security situation, the status of Pakistan’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) should be cause for increasing concern. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pakistan, there were 462,912 internally displaced persons (IDPs) outside camps in NWFP, and 93,627 at IDP camps as of April 28. In CHUP’s recent interview with Khalid Aziz, director for institution-strengthening with the FATA Secretariat, the number of IDPs living throughout Pakistan [with their families, in camps, etc.] was totaled at 700,000.
The military’s recent push against the Taliban means this number will increase at a rapid pace. According to a spokesperson at the UNHCR office in Islamabad, the organization had registered 4,000 more displaced persons by May 5. Moreover, media reports yesterday and today estimate that 500,000 more people in Swat Valley are expected to flee their homes as fighting between the military and Taliban militants intensify. According to BBC News today, “Officials say that more than 40,000 people have so far fled from clashes between the army and militants in Swat.” NPR, in its coverage, described the scene in detail, reporting, “Buses carrying the residents of Mingora, the region’s main town, were crammed inside and out. Refugees clambered onto the roofs after seats and floors filled up. Children and adults alike carried their belongings on their heads and backs — all of them fleeing the fighting they fear is about to consume the region.” CNN noted:
The militants are marching on the streets of the city, threatening the lives of civilians, local administrators, and security forces, according to the Pakistani military. Authorities in Swat lifted a curfew Tuesday between 1:30 and 7 p.m. to allow residents to leave the area, Swat District Coordination Officer Khushal Khan said. He noted that after Wednesday, “there will be no time” for evacuations.
Where can these people, these casualties of war, go for refuge? While many are housed in IDP camps, a larger number still are forced to live in cramped conditions with relatives in other cities. Aijaz Muhammed, a resident of Peshawar told IRIN, “We live in a three-room apartment in Peshawar where 18 people are now crammed. My brother, his wife and their four children were already living here; now my family of eight and our younger brother’s of four has been forced to move from Swat and join them.” And although he lives in rather squalid conditions, Muhammed is wary of a peace deal between the military and the militants, fearing it may fall apart as it has many times in the past. According to IRIN, He said he was “too scared to move back.”
The NWFP government has announced they will set up six more camps for the influx of displaced persons, “in addition to existing camps in and around Peshawar,” reported CNN. Other NGOs like Helping Hands Relief and Development have also contributed to the efforts, telling local media that 500 displaced families had taken shelter in four temporary camps in Lower Dir based around school or college buildings. The United Nations, meanwhile, is increasing their efforts in collaboration with National Disaster Management Authority and other NGOs to provide humanitarian relief to these people. According to IRIN, “Around 1,000 families fleeing Buner and Dir districts for Jallozai camp near Peshawar have been given assistance. The camp currently accommodates some 7,800 families, most of them from the Bajaur Tribal Agency.
While the fighting has been inevitable, the government must do more to provide services to these internally displaced persons. Azam Khan, who with his family of six is based at the Government Degree College in Timergara [the principal city of Lower Dir District] with some 140 other families, told IRIN, “The situation here is just appalling. There is no clean water, no cooking facilities and a lack of toilets. We really need help. We have been turned into beggars and the fighting means we cannot go home.” The humanitarian news agency also reported that some IDPs from Dir and elsewhere have moved as far afield as Islamabad, where an IDP camp was set up in late 2008 by Mutahida Islahi Falahi Tanzeem (MIFT), a local NGO. Head of MIFT Khurshid Ali Khan said some 60 families were housed there, but more needed to be done to “provide basic facilities for these people.”
Recently, on March 25, news agencies reported that an incident occurred when “some 1,500 IDPs at Jallozai camp in Nowshera, east of Peshawar, staged a rally and blocked a main highway. ” The people were protesting the poor facilities at the camp. Malik Said, one of the IDPs who led the protest, told IRIN over the phone: “We initially staged a demonstration inside the camp because we want better food, regular supplies of basic items so we can cook, and compensation for families who have lost relatives in the conflict.” However, as the protest blocked traffic, police in Nowshera shot at the crowd killing a protester.
If you recall from CHUP’s recent coverage of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy‘s film Children of the Taliban, these camps have been and will continue to be recruiting grounds for the Taliban, particularly if services are not provided by the government, and especially after developments like the one noted above. Within this vacuum, if the militants can provide services and offer more viable options for IDPs than the state, that is a dangerous phenomenon. The government and international agencies must therefore do more to relieve the plight of the ever-increasing number of displaced persons in Pakistan, not just for humanitarian purposes, but because we cannot afford to let the Taliban win anymore.
As for us, it is important to remember that IDPs are not beggars living in tents. They are not just a statistic. They are people. And we must also play a role in helping their situation. I am currently compiling a list of methods for people to help, so please email me at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com if you have suggestions or leave a comment below.
- A CHUP reader kindly informed me that several people, including Fauzia Minallah and Ghazalah Minallah, the wife and sister of Athar Minallah, a prominent Pakistani lawyer, are collecting donations of flour, sugar, rice tea, dry milk, daal, ghee, salt biscuits for the IDPs who have poured into Islamabad/Rawalpindi from Buner and the adjacent areas. To donate and potentially help with the distribution of these items please call Fauzia (0306 504 9852) or Ghazalah (0300 527 0330).
- Thanks to a commentator who mentioned the Pakistani Red Crescent Society, who are supporting IDP’s in District Dir, Nowshera (now closed), Risalpur, Mardan and Swat. To make a donation or volunteer your time, call your provincial branch of the PRCS.
- RIPORT, Khalid Aziz’s NGO [who CHUP interviewed two weeks ago] is also providing relief to the IDP camps. His email to me read, “RIPORT [based in Peshawar] is preparing an NGO response and we will be going in with a scheme called, “Lightening the Darkness,”where we are hoping to provide electricity to IDPs. The summer is coming and the heat and mosquitoes will make the life of the IDPs more miserable. We are also examining the relatively easier project of providing medicine to camps. Our initial survey shows large gaps in medicine supply. Of course we will need funds. The effort now is based on volunteerism; we are building up fast.” If you would like to volunteer/donate funds to these relief efforts, please call +92(91) 9211-8411
- Thanks to another commentator who recommended Islamic Relief USA, who provided a lot of earthquake relief and are now currently providing medicine and other essentials to IDPs in and around Peshawar. For people in the United States who would like to help, this may be the best avenue. Click here to get the contact information near you.
- Thanks to another CHUP reader who informed me that UNHCR has started a reliable online drive to collect funds, click here. There is a good breakdown on the website of what tangible items your funds will provide.
- YellO.pk has begun the process of marking Aid Collection Points around Pakistan where clothes, food, tents and donations are being collected for the displaced people of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir. They need your help to mobilize the efforts of those around you and make them aware about how they can mark the Collection Points as “Events” on the yellO map. Click here to mark a Collection point on the map or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the Collection point details (location, telephone, timings, what to donate etc). Please encourage others to do the same and pass this message on to as many as you can. You can search or add your collection points on the website.
- In Karachi, Zehra Qadir is collecting goods for the displaced of Swat. Donate items like food (dry rations – rice, lentils, flour, powdered milk, ghee, sugar and tea), linen, mattresses, plastic utensils, coolers, buckets, and appropriate clothing, and deliver goods to A 23 Sunset Blvd. Karachi or contact Zehra at email@example.com
- In Islamabad, Mehnaz Ulmulk is collecting items like mattresses, bedding, mosquito repellants/coils, soap, plastic plates/cups, water coolers, etc. [not cash donations]. She has a friend who has been personally going to the camps to help out, so your items will go directly to the IDPs. Call her at +(92)300 5351887.
- Definitely also suggest contacting your local Edhi Foundation center and donating money that way. Click here to receive contact information for a center near you.
- The World Food Program (WFP) in Pakistan is currently reaching 650,000 IDPs, providing rations as the crisis worsens. Click here to donate money to their efforts.
- A food drive wil be held in Karachi at the Carlton Hotel from Friday May 15 – Sunday May 17. Click here to visit the Facebook event for the drive and to view further details.