Relief kits help Pakistan's displaced as they return home or cope with temporary exile

News Stories, 24 August 2009

© UNHCR/A.Rummery
In Peshawar, a displaced young man carries off his family's relief items sleeping mats, plastic sheets and other household goods donated by a United Arab Emirates charity and distributed last week by UNHCR.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, August 24 (UNHCR) Since fleeing shelling in her village in Lower Dir in northwest Pakistan three months ago, Amna* has been living with her family in two rented rooms in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province and a refuge for many who fled fighting.

After receiving a family kit of sheets, quilts, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, plastic sheets, jerry cans and kitchen utensils from UNHCR last week, the 24-year old is now heading home a journey of about four hours to join her husband, a farmer, who returned several weeks ago.

"Even though it is quieter now at home and peace is restored, everything is very expensive as the economy has been disrupted," she says of life in Lower Dir, some 180 kilometres from Peshawar.

At Shahi Bagh sports stadium in Peshawar over the past week, UNHCR distributed family kits to more than 21,000 families staying outside of camps in host communities. The agency was able to provide these goods thanks to support of the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahayan Foundation of the United Arab Emirates.

Government officials say more than half of northwest Pakistan's 2.3 million people have now returned to their homes, while many others, still hesitating, appreciate ongoing support in safer areas.

"We are reluctant to go back as the situation in Lower Dir is uncertain and there are rumours that the government could restart military operations," said 25-year-old newlywed Mohammed Khalid, who fled three months ago with his parents, siblings and wife.

Khalid, has a university education but is now jobless, lives in a rented house with his family and says there is still no water or electricity in his home town. He says he appreciates the assistance from UNHCR and the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahayan Foundation.

"I am very happy with the continuous support of the UNHCR," he said. "The agency is still active like it was in the beginning."

A beehive of activity at Peshawar's main bus station also testified that many formerly displaced Pakistanis who have already returned home made the journey back to Peshawar to collect the relief items.

Many loaded their new kits onto buses and cars and headed home for the second time since the government's formal return program began on 13 July, intent on using the goods to help restart their lives.

Riaz Khan, 38, returned to his Swat Valley home on July. With his hands paralysed, the grey-bearded Khan said he had to walk 20 kilometres from Mingora to Barikot when the military operation started three months ago. He came back to Peshawar to pick up his family kit but would have preferred not to make the journey.

"The role of UNHCR is commendable, but what you people should do is to set up distribution points in Swat so that the people could get their relief items in their own areas," said Khan, the father of five.

Security restrictions have hampered UNHCR's relief distribution in return areas but the agency is planning to distribute relief through humanitarian hubs and distribution points in Swat, Buner and Dir. UNHCR has so far distributed family kits to more than 193,000 families (or almost 1.3 million people) in northwest Pakistan.

The donation from the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahayan Foundation is helping UNHCR give relief kits to more than 120,000 displaced families (more than 800,000 people) in Pakistan.

Additional funds will provide shelter kits for families returning to damaged houses, packages of dates, flour and other food items for the 20,000 families remaining in camps and host communities in North West Frontier Province in the approach to Eid, and assistance to people displaced by fighting in South Waziristan.

By Qaiser Khan Afridi and Ariane Rummery
In Peshawar

*All names changed for protection reasons.