Aqeela Asifi, an Afghan refugee living in Pakistan, has been named the 2015 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. Asifi has dedicated her adult life to educating refugee girls. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, hundreds of girls have now passed through her school, equipped with life-long skills and brighter hopes for their futures.
Asifi fled from Kabul in 1992 with her young family. They found refuge in the desolate Kot Chandana refugee village in the south-eastern Punjab province of Pakistan. Adjusting from life in a capital city and working as a teacher, to living in a dusty refugee village was difficult. She was especially struck by the total absence of schools for girls.
It took time but eventually Asifi was allowed to start a small school under a tent. Over the years the school expanded and received the hard-won backing of community elders. Asifi's dedication has helped guide more than 1,000 girls through to the eighth grade and encouraged more schools to open in the village. Another 1,500 young people (900 girls, 650 boys) are enrolled in six schools throughout the refugee village today.
In north-west Pakistan, UNHCR is working with the government and other UN agencies to assist tens of thousands of people who have left their homes due to a security operation against insurgent groups. Since the military push began in January, more than one hundred thousand residents of the Khyber Agency, which is in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan, have fled the conflict zone. Since mid-March there has been a surge of people arriving at the Jalozai camp, near the city of Peshawar. At Jalozai, Khyber residents are registered and provided with humanitarian supplies and food aid. Though most opt to stay with friends and relatives in nearby towns and cities, those without resources are provided with a tent in a newly-created settlement in Jalozai.
The UN refugee agency is stepping up its efforts to distribute tents and other emergency supplies to families left homeless by severe flooding that hit parts of southern Pakistan in 2011. By early October, some 7,000 family tents had been provided to a national aid organization that is constructing small tent villages in southern Sindh province. A similar number of emergency household kits have also been supplied. Though the monsoon rains which caused the flooding have stopped, large areas remain under water and finding sufficient areas of dry land on which to pitch the tents remains a challenge. UNHCR has committed to providing 70,000 tents and relief kits to flood-stricken communities.