UNHCR helps South Waziristan's displaced in neighbouring districts

The UN refugee agency helps tens of thousands of displaced Pakistani civilians, each with a harrowing story to tell, in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank districts.

A displaced man from South Waziristan collects a package of aid from UNHCR.  © UNHCR/Q.K.Afridi

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan, December 31 (UHCR) - Death came out of the night sky as Musa Khan and his family cowered in their simple village home in Pakistan's volatile South Waziristan district a month ago.

They were caught in the crossfire as government troops clashed with militants as part of a new military push in the rugged border region. "It was around 9:00 p.m. when our home was hit by mortar fire. My 50-year-old father was killed," the young man told UNHCR staff at Indus Colony in Dera Ismail Khan district, where he is living with his family in a tent provided by UNHCR. The region is located to the east of South Waziristan.

"We left behind everything, even the body of my father, as it all happened very suddenly. He might still be under the debris," Khan continued. The 19-year-old, his mother and four brothers joined tens off thousands of other civilians who fled the violence and walked to safety in Dera Ismail Khan and neighbouring Tank district, mostly to stay with family or in private homes.

The UN refugee agency and its local partners have been helping to register new arrivals in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank as well as providing essential relief supplies such as tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans, mosquito nets, buckets and hygiene items. More than 280,000 displaced people (38,500 families) remain in the two districts.

Some 35,000 tents and 54,000 aid kits have been distributed, but it has been a difficult operation. "It has been very challenging for UNHCR to provide assistance to displaced people in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank due to limited access to the area," said Mengesha Kebede, UNHCR's representative in Islamabad, referring to security concerns.

But he added that the displaced civilians really appreciated the assistance. "UNHCR tents are a valuable support to the displaced families as they help to resolve over-crowding issues . . . Other relief items like quilts and blankets will help people during winter," Kebede said.

A striking looking old lady who was forced to flee her home in South Waziristan and find shelter in Dera Ismail Khan.  © UNHCR/Q.K.Afridi

UNHCR staff talked to another displaced villager from South Waziristan, septuagenarian Yar Jana, at Indus Colony. Like Musa Khan, she also lost a close relative before fleeing from her village in South Waziristan.

"We were in a trench outside our home, but my 80-year-old paralyzed husband was stuck inside the house. He was killed when it was hit by mortar fire," the 76-year-old recalled. Her son Ayaz was angry that innocent civilians were being caught in the cross-fire between the opposing sides.

Musa Khan, meanwhile, feels uncomfortable in the hustle and bustle of Indus Colony and Dera Ismail Khan town and wants to go back home. "We hope peace returns soon," he said, adding: "The first thing I will do after my return will be to search through the rubble of my house for the bones of my father."

By Qaiser Khan Afridi in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan