38,000 internally displaced head home from Pakistan's Jalozai camp

Briefing Notes, 7 June 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 June 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Pakistan, the latest phase in a return operation for people displaced by fighting in the tribal areas was completed on Sunday 5th June. Over the past two months 38,000 people were assisted in leaving the Jalozai camp the largest of the area's four camps for internally displaced. Most have been returned to homes in Bajaur Agency, while a smaller number have gone to neighbouring Mohmand Agency. Both agencies are in the northern part of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, bordering Afghanistan.

The Government of Pakistan, which organized the voluntary return operation, has declared all of Bajaur, with the exception of Loi Sam, to be safe. It is currently working to identify an alternative site inside Bajaur Agency for the approximately 3,000 families who were living in Loi Sam and whose homes have been damaged by fighting. Areas declared safe in Mohmand include Lower Mohmand and parts of Upper Mohmand.

Displacement from Pakistan's tribal areas began in 2008 in the wake of a government crackdown on insurgents.

Before departing the Jalozai settlement, families were required to first register their intention to leave. They were then given a date for when they and their household belongings would be transported to their homes. UNHCR staff monitored the entire process to ensure that returns were voluntary.

UNHCR assisted the government by funding the transportation of returnees. We also established warehouses in Khar in Bajaur Agency and in Ghalanai in Mohmand. Returning families were provided with basic household supplies. Tents were also given to those whose homes were damaged in the conflict for use as temporary shelters while repairs are carried out. Other UN agencies are also providing help. The World Food Programme has enrolled returnees in cash for work programmes, UNICEF is providing hygiene kits, and WHO is offering health care through a partner organization.

At the peak of the displacement crisis in 2009, more than 21,000 families (around 147,000 people) were registered in Jalozai, however the vast majority of the displaced around 90 per cent lived outside camps, with friends, relatives and in rented accommodation.

An estimated 5,000 families (26,000 individuals) remain in Jalozai, most of them residents of areas still considered unsafe for returns. Jalozai has long been one of Pakistan's largest camps, and prior to 2008 was home to tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Islamabad, Pakistan: Tim Irwin on mobile +92 300 815 3692
  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
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Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Beyond the smiles of homecoming lie the harsh realities of return. With more than 5 million Afghans returning home since 2002, Afghanistan's absorption capacity is reaching saturation point.

Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

Despite the obstacles, their spirit is strong. Returning Afghans – young and old, women and men – seem determined to do their bit for nation building, one brick at a time.

Posted on 31 January 2008

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

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