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More and more Pakistani displaced move to camps as needs grow


More and more Pakistani displaced move to camps as needs grow

As increasing number of people are displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan, UNHCR is ramping up efforts to accommodate fresh arrivals in camps.
10 June 2009
A displaced woman, who recently arrived in Sugar Mill camp, awaits news of relatives who stayed behind in Swat Valley.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, June 9 (UNHCR) - Unlike many emergencies, the vast majority of people displaced by the upsurge in fighting in Pakistan's Swat Valley, and Lower Dir and Buner districts have found shelter, not in camps, but with host families or in communal buildings such as schools. As the conflict enters its sixth week and the number of displaced continues to rise, overcrowding and the shortage of resources is becoming acute. UNHCR is seeking to ease the congestion by expanding camps and by providing assistance to host families.

Growing numbers of displaced "feel that they cannot stay forever as guests in host families, who themselves are often quite poor," explained UNHCR field officer Shankar Chauhan. The result, he said, is that "more and more . . . are starting to move to camps."

An estimated 235,000 people are staying in 21 organized camps in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), according to local authorities. This includes more than 148,000 people who fled their homes over the past five weeks. In addition, some 100,000 people are staying in camp-like situations in schools and other government buildings. With the lifting of the curfew on Tuesday in Chakdara, in Malakand, more people are expected to arrive in safe areas.

Some new arrivals at camps report host families running short of money. Others say they have been staying in schools in villages where they received only limited assistance. When schools reopen in August, many displaced people staying there will also be forced to move on.

Saif is a resident of the Swat Valley town of Mingora. He arrived with his wife and three sons in Larama camp on June 3 after fleeing shelling in his home area. For 15 days, he stayed with cousins in a school in Gujergari, in Mardan district. "We were about three to four families in a class room, sleeping on mats on the floor," he recalled.

"At the beginning of our stay, villagers were bringing us food. But after two or three days they stopped. I had to borrow money from my cousins to be able to buy food at the market for my family."

Privacy was also a problem. "We decided to leave. Our cousins gave us some money to take a bus to come here in Larama camp, in Peshawar."

To address the space shortage for displaced people like Saif, UNHCR is seeking land to develop additional camps. Two new camps which opened last week have already almost reached full capacity. New arrivals are being directed to the larger Jalozai camp, Nowshera. It is now hosting around 97,000 displaced people, including 52,000 who arrived since early May.

Others are being directed to Yar Hussain camp in Swabi district which currently is home to 29,000 people. In Yar Hussain alone, 1,170 new internally displaced people were registered on Monday. The two camps are being expanded continuously to accommodate new arrivals.

In addition, UNHCR is exploring the possibility of providing shelter kits for displaced people staying with host families. A technical working group is developing a prototype kit, and the project will be launched in rural areas where families have more land or gardens where the kits can be used.

The project is a joint effort between UNHCR, UN-Habitat, World Vision, Norwegian Refugee Council, Catholic Relief Services, and Relief International. In addition, UNHCR continues to work with UN-Habitat to distribute tents to people staying with host families. More than 3,500 tents have been distributed to date.

On Wednesday, UNHCR and local partner agency, Sarhad Rural Support Programme, will start distributing relief items to displaced people staying in schools, host families and rented accommodations in Charssada and Nowshera districts. Some 84,000 people in Charssada and 54,000 people in Nowshera will receive relief items such as mats, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting and jerry cans.

UNHCR wants to scale up its assistance to people staying outside of camps, and is procuring more relief items. But it urgently needs funds to buy more supplies. UNHCR still requires US$67 million for the operation in Pakistan until the end of the year. This figure may need to be revised if the number of displaced rises.

By Hélène Caux in Peshawar
and Ariane Rummery in Islamabad, Pakistan