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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

PAKISTAN: No official date for mass IDP returns

KARACHI, 9 July 2009 (IRIN) - The Pakistani government has not yet set a date for the official start of the return of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes in various parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

“So far, no date has been announced officially,” said Lt-Col Raja Waseem Shahid of the Special Support Group (SSG), set up by the government to oversee IDP affairs.

Shahid told IRIN the army would lift the curfew and announce the start of returns “in a few days, after all the services are restored and the area is completely cleared of militants”. He said they were still expecting some resistance especially in the Shamozai and Kabal areas near Mingora, Swat Valley’s principal city, in the NWFP.

According to Shahid, returns are to take place “in a phased and planned manner”:

First - 261,000 IDPs living in 27 camps.

Second - Those who had sought refuge in schools and government buildings.

Third - Those living with host families in NWFP.

Fourth - Those living outside NWFP.

Trickling back?

In the past few weeks there have been media reports of some people returning to their homes in some areas, but the numbers are believed to be small.

“People are so desperate that they are not waiting for the official announcement,” said Ibrash Pasha, of Khwenda Kor, a local NGO working for women’s empowerment.

However, some returnees are using mountain tracks to get home as many roads have been closed by the army, Pasha said. “What normally takes just two hours by road, is taking close to eight hours. Many have reported being robbed on the way, whilst others have been caught in the crossfire [between militants and government forces].”

The Pakistani Daily Times newspaper said on 5 July that some IDPs in Buner living outside camps had decided to go home prior to any government announcement.

UN officials, meanwhile, are urging safe and organized IDP returns.

“We emphasize an organized repatriation and safe return of IDPs to their homes,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator Martin Mogwanja told the media.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who is on a four-day mission to Pakistan and visited some IDP camps in Swabi and Mardan districts on 8 July, said in a statement: “Many told me they would leave this very afternoon - if conditions were right. But they need to be sure that they will be safe when they go back, that basic services are there, and most importantly that they will not have to leave their homes again."


“Every morning my [seven] children plead with me to take them back to Mingora,” Asif Ali Khan, a businessman from Mingora, told IRIN from Attock, a district in Punjab Province, where he is living at a friend’s place. “But we have to be sure we will get back safely.”

Many fear the militants could return, and their doubts are not unfounded: Although the Pakistani army has cleared many areas of militants, most of their leaders are still up in the mountains and alive, observers say.

Mir Nawaz, 24, an electrician from Buner, is anxious to return. Living in Yar Hussain camp - set up for IDPs in NWFP’s Swabi District - was “like hell”, he said, adding that he did not know what to expect when he gets home. “I’ve heard that local people who were trapped during the fighting looted our homes.”

According to Shahid, once the return officially starts, IDPs will receive an assistance package, including transport, one month’s food rations and about US$300 per family. Security convoys would accompany the returnees and there would be a series of security checkpoints, Shahid said.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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