Pakistan: Government announces return plan for displaced
The Pakistani government announced yesterday the first stage of a four-phase programme to return internally displaced persons (IDPs) to some areas of the districts of Buner and Swat. The government said the first returns should start on Monday, July 13, and that displaced people staying in camps would be the first to be given an opportunity to return to their homes.
More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May following the conflict between government forces and militants in the North West Frontier Province's districts of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir. While some 260,000 of the displaced are staying in 21 camps in Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera, Peshawar and Charssada districts, the vast majority of people are being accommodated with host families, in rented houses or in school buildings.
The government confirmed that returns will take place in conformity with recent guidelines developed jointly with the government, UN and partner agencies. Those guidelines are based on the principles of voluntary, safe and dignified returns. The willingness of people to return will be assessed and a list of candidates for return will be established at a 'return application desk.' A list of vulnerable people will also be established.
Prior to returning on a voluntary basis, internally displaced people should also have access to proper information on the security situation in the area of origin; the magnitude of the destruction; and the availability of basic services and facilities. There has been significant damage in some areas of conflict. Another major issue is the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance, which constitute a real threat for the returning population, especially children. Inter-agency assessments to affected areas will be used to confirm the conditions of sustainable return.
All the above principles have been discussed in a Return Task Force chaired by the government, which has clearly indicated that it will act in accordance with them.
The Return Task Force, which has been established in Peshawar and which comprises of several UN agencies and aid organizations, is working on a detailed plan which will be shared tomorrow with authorities.
Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners are continuing to distribute assistance packages to displaced people staying in host families or in school buildings. Since June 4, we have assisted 34,000 families (221,000 individuals) in the districts of Nowshera, Charssada and Mardan. We have almost completed distribution in Charssada and Nowshera. In Mardan, we plan to assist 62,000 families (we have already assisted 4,500) staying outside of camps while other aid agencies will provide relief items to 42,000 families. This is part of a joint distribution schedule shared between several agencies.