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Guterres urges international support for Pakistani displaced; announces airlift

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Guterres urges international support for Pakistani displaced; announces airlift

11 May 2009

Monday, 11 May 2009

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today appealed for international solidarity in support of hundreds of thousands of displaced Pakistani civilians and announced a UNHCR airlift to rush tonnes of additional humanitarian supplies to the north-west of the country.

Guterres, whose agency already has a large operation in Pakistan, said the speed and scale of the latest displacement in the country's north-west required an immediate international humanitarian response in support of the Pakistani people affected by the conflict.

"The total number of displaced Pakistanis registered by authorities with UNHCR help since May 2 has now reached more than 360,000 people. Not everyone is registered and people continue to flee, many arriving only with what they can carry on their backs," Guterres said. "These are the same people who for decades showed great generosity to millions of Afghan refugees. Now it is time for the international community to show them the same generosity by supporting humanitarian programs for the Pakistani displaced."

As part of the joint UN response to the current displacement crisis, UNHCR has assisted the government in establishing three new camps for internally displaced people in Mardan and Swabi districts, and is helping the Pakistan Red Crescent set up a fourth. UNHCR site planners are also assessing the suitability of land for additional camps in the region already identified by the government. Plans are also underway to further expand the existing Jalozai camp, further south in NWFP.

The refugee agency is also working with authorities to expand the number of registration centres in Mardan, Swabi and Charsadda districts from a dozen to 75 to speed up the registration process. About 20 are now operating. A number of "humanitarian hubs" are also being set up to provide help to people who are staying outside of the camps. The agency has also opened up its stockpiles in Pakistan to provide thousands of locally procured basic relief items such as tents, kitchen sets, jerry cans, sleeping mats and blankets delivered through non-governmental partners and the authorities.

But Guterres said much more needs to be done to assist the displaced and announced an airlift on Tuesday that will carry some 120 tonnes of urgently needed humanitarian supplies from UNHCR central emergency stockpiles in Dubai to Pakistan. The chartered Boeing 747 cargo plane will deliver 14,000 plastic sheets; 1,500 large roles of plastic; 10,000 mosquito nets; and two large, portable warehouses. The total cost of the airlift is $584,000. But Guterres said the needs are far greater and UNHCR will continue to purchase additional stocks, including locally to the extent possible.

"I call on the international community to support the overall humanitarian effort on behalf of displaced Pakistanis," Guterres said. "This is a huge and rapidly unfolding emergency which is going to require considerable resources beyond those that currently exist in the region."