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Pakistan: Earthquake camp closures start today

Briefing notes

Pakistan: Earthquake camp closures start today

10 March 2006

With winter drawing to an end in Pakistan's quake zone, the Pakistan authorities have announced that relief camps will start closing today, with most camps to be closed by the end of March.

As lead agency for camp management in this operation, UNHCR recognises the need for people to rebuild their lives five months after the October 8, 2005 tragedy, but we've stressed to the authorities that returns must be informed and voluntary and that provisions should be made for vulnerable people who cannot return for the time being.

Even before the deadline, some camp dwellers had already returned on their own accord. Some families from Dharra, Kattai and New Bhogarmang camps have dismantled their tents and taken the relief items they received back to the Siran Valley in North West Frontier Province. Several dozen families have also returned home from Bella Noor Shah camp in Muzaffarabad, while some heads of households in Bagh's Namanpura camp have gone on "go and see" visits to their homes in Behdi to assess the conditions for return.

With 134 emergency staff and 60 mobile technical and camp management teams, UNHCR is currently supporting the Pakistan authorities in caring for more than 147,000 quake survivors living in 153 relief camps with 50 tents and above.

To ensure that returns are informed and voluntary, our field teams are joining the Regional Relief Commission and Camp Management Organisation in camps to discuss return issues with the affected population. They tell us their main concerns are the availability of land, road rehabilitation, shelter, drinking water and food in their villages.

We will contribute to a return package for the quake survivors once the government and international agencies finalise discussions on the contents of the package.

Last week, UNHCR handed over to the government the results of the registration exercise conducted in 170 relief camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and North West Frontier Province. This information on areas of origin and vulnerable groups can help the government when planning the return and rehabilitation phase.

Inevitably, there will be some vulnerable people who cannot go home immediately. They include those who are seriously disabled, widowed or have lost their land in landslides. Urban centres like Balakot and Muzaffarabad have been completely levelled and will take time to rebuild. The authorities are identifying several camps to house this remaining displaced population.

We're concluding a survey of vulnerable people in the camps, and will share the findings with the government once they are finalized. In Muzaffarabad's camps, we're identifying people who need prosthetics, wheelchairs, crutches and walking sticks before their return.

In some camps, ICMC (International Catholic Migration Commission) has started UNHCR-funded projects like psychosocial counselling and vocational training to help boost people's self-reliance after they return home, and for those who will remain in camps for the time being. Courses include electric work, carpentry, plumbing and masonry for men; sewing, knitting and embroidery for women.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and ICMC are also setting up legal advice centres and mobile teams in the quake zone to address legal issues related to return, including rights to land, property and compensation.