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UNHCR chief visits displaced Pakistanis, calls for massive aid


UNHCR chief visits displaced Pakistanis, calls for massive aid

High Commissioner Guterres visits UNHCR-supported camps in north-west Pakistan and calls for a massive aid effort for 835,000 displaced civilians.
14 May 2009 Also available in:
High Commissioner António Guterres meets with a group of displaced Pakistani civilians earlier today.

YAR HUSSAIN CAMP, Pakistan, May 14 (UNHCR) - In a visit to UNHCR-supported displacement camps, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called Thursday for a massive international aid effort for more than 800,000 Pakistanis recently uprooted by fighting in the country's north-west.

"I feel an obligation to come here and express my personal solidarity with the Pakistani people," Guterres said at the start of a three-day mission to Pakistan to assess UNHCR's emergency response to the continuing displacement crisis.

"I want to use this occasion to make a very strong plea for massive international support . . . This is not a moment for small gestures," added Guterres, who said it was time for the international community to repay Pakistan for its generosity in hosting millions of Afghan refugees over the years.

The High Commissioner expressed surprise at the speed with which the displacement was unfolding. He noted that more than 835,000 people have been registered as displaced since May 2, of whom just 80,000 are in camps like Yar Hussain. That is in addition to more than 550,000 registered displaced who fled their homes after earlier fighting in the north-west since last August.

"The majority of those fleeing are not staying in camps but with relatives or friends or they are renting shelter," Guterres said. "But this is placing tremendous social and economic hardship on people. The dimensions of the problem are far out of proportion to the available resources."

During his visit to Yar Hussain camp in the Swabi District of North West Frontier Province, Guterres spoke with many refugee families, witnessed new arrivals being registered and met Pakistani humanitarian workers.

He also visited a World Food Programme distribution centre which had been set up in a former flour mill in the town of Swabi town. He watched aid workers hand out food and UNHCR non-food aid items. He also talked to a group of four or five displaced civilians who were all living with friends or relatives.

Earlier Thursday, Guterres met with Pakistan's Minister for States and Frontier Regions Najmuddin Khan and with Dr. Fida Wazir of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees. He is scheduled to hold further official meetings on Friday.

The UN refugee agency has been fast to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in north-west Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled fighting between government forces and militants. It has been providing shelter and aid as part of a united UN response.

UNHCR already has a major presence in Pakistan after decades of helping Afghan refugees. It started distributing aid from stocks in the country as soon as the dimensions of the current crisis became clear and has helped establish new camps for the displaced as well as reception and registration centres, where it is also working with local and international partners.

On Tuesday, UNHCR airlifted 120 tonnes of additional relief supplies from its regional stockpile in Dubai. The chartered aircraft carried 10,000 mosquito nets, 14,000 plastic sheets for emergency shelters, 1,500 plastic rolls to build walls and privacy screens in camps, and two portable warehouses.

UNHCR has been working with Pakistani authorities and organizations in registering and assisting the displaced. Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority has provided an additional 10,000 tents to UNHCR for the emergency operation.

Hundreds of spontaneous settlements have sprung up in schools, colleges, flour mills, stadiums, parks, private land and other sites. UNHCR has visited many of these to assess needs.

People are being registered in camps and registration points established by the Directorate of Social Welfare with UNHCR's help in Swabi, Mardan, Nowshera, Charsadda, Kohat and Peshawar.

The Mardan, Sheikh Yasin, Sheikh Shahzad and Jalala camps are full and people are being directed to other camps such as Jalozai in Nowshera, or the soon to be opened Shah Mansoor site in Swabi.

By Ron Redmond in Yar Hussain Camp, Pakistan