Minority families in Pakistan displaced by war but optimistic about peace

News Stories, 7 July 2014

© UNHCR/Q.K.Afridi
Firdos, a member of the Christian community from North Waziristan Agency, takes UNHCR's relief items from a distribution point in Bannu in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

BANNU, 7 July (UNHCR) Firdos, a 55-year-old member of the small Christian community, suffered the same fate as hundreds and thousands of families who have fled their homes due to the military operation against the Taliban in Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency (NWA). "We left Miranshah barefoot in the boiling summer heat, and after traveling for two nights, we reached Bannu," said the white-bearded Firdos, adding that his family had only the clothes on their backs. Some 200 Christian and Hindu families from NWA have taken refuge in schools where the government and UN agencies are providing them with emergency relief assistance.

A retired Irrigation Department employee, Firdos misses his small house. "We are not comfortable being away from our loved homes. But we did not have any other option but to leave," he said.

He, along with other members of his community, was patiently waiting in a long queue to collect UNHCR's core relief items at a school in Bannu, a city where some 80 percent of the displaced families from NWA are currently struggling to survive.

Following a formal request from the government on 23 June 2014, the UN system, including UNHCR and other humanitarian partners, started supporting the response of the Pakistani authorities to this massive new internal displacement. UNHCR's contributions include protection activities the key being registration of the displaced to identify the vulnerable needing urgent assistance.

"So far UNHCR has distributed some 10,574 family kits of core relief items that include jerry cans, buckets, mosquito nets, mats, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, sanitary cloths and soap," said Mata-ul Hussain Changaiz, UNHCR's Assistant Field Officer. He said other UN agencies and NGOs are also providing food, health care, water and sanitation, as well as contributing to meet other basic needs. According to the latest government figures, some 786,107 individuals in 62,251 families have fled the fresh military operation against the Taliban in Pakistan's North Waziristan region. Seventy-five percent are women and children.

Most of the families have sought refuge in parts of Bannu, a town in the northwest of the country. Many others are with host communities in Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan and Tank in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Some have traveled even further within the country, and some have also crossed into Afghanistan.

Those displaced are struggling to cope amid scorching temperatures during the fasting month of Ramadan. Few want to live in the camp at Baka Khel in Bannu. Some are sheltering in 1,200 school buildings that were vacant during the summer vacation.

Firdos, wearing his traditional Waziristani turban, has a strong attachment to his native town Miranshah, and is optimistic peace will return. "We left our homes because our children got frightened, otherwise we would never think of leaving the village where we were born and raised," he said.

His grandfather migrated from Sialkot in Punjab and settled in NWA decades ago as the family has ties with the local population. He said a large number of Hindus and Christians live in areas of NWA in harmony with the local tribesmen.

Firdos witnessed deaths, thirst and wounded feet on his way to Bannu. It is hard for him to forget. "It was heart wrenching ... but I am sure we will see good days again because I love my Waziristan," he said in his Waziristan accented Pashto.

Qaiser Khan Afridi in Bannu, Pakistan

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The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Waves of fighting in eastern Democratic of the Republic since late April have displaced tens of thousands of people. Many have become internally displaced within the province, while others have fled to south-west Uganda's Kisoro district or to Rwanda via the Goma-Gisenyi crossing.

The stop-start clashes between government forces and renegade soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda began in the province's Masisi and Walikale territories, but subsequently shifted to Rutshuru territory, which borders Uganda.

Between May 10-20, one of UNHCR's local NGO partners registered more than 40,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jomba and Bwesa sectors.

The IDPs are living in difficult conditions, staying in school buildings and churches or with host families. They lack food and shelter and have limited access to health facilities. Some of the displaced have reported cases of extortion, forced labour, beatings and recruitment of minors to fight.

UNHCR and other major aid organizations plan to distribute food, medicine and other aid. More than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North and South Kivu since the start of the year, according to UN figures.

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Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

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Some 7,000 people have gathered near Goz Beida town, seeking shelter under trees or wherever they can find it. As soon as security permits, UNHCR will distribute relief items. The UN refugee agency has already provided newly arrived IDPs at Habila camp with plastic sheeting, mats, blankets and medicine. The agency is scouting for a temporary site for the new arrivals and in the meantime will increase the number of water points in Habila camp.

The deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on UNHCR's operation to help the refugees and displaced people, is of extreme concern. There are 90,000 displaced people in Chad, as well as 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

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