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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

PAKISTAN: Excitement and apprehension as IDPs begin journey home

MARDAN, 13 July 2009 (IRIN) - Most of the 60 passengers crammed into a bus winding its way up to Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley are internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning home after nearly two months in camps. The mood is cautiously festive, and many of the returnees, laden with bags of flour, rice, sugar and other essentials, hope their suffering is over.

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government on 11 July announced a three-phase plan for the return of IDPs, beginning 13 July, but the process had already begun.

Aizaz Khan, 30, is one of the first returnees among more than two million people displaced, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), since 3 May by conflict between government forces and Taliban militants.

"The government and army say the Swat area is secure now. My family and I have been living with relatives in Mardan [district capital of Mardan district in NWFP]. It was cramped and very uncomfortable, so we are thrilled to be going home," he said.

In a statement issued on 10 July, UNHCR said this repatriation would conform 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," UNHCR said.


However, many of the IDPs are concerned about what they will find when they get home.

"I have heard that many houses have been destroyed, as well as shops and fields. My brother, who stayed on in Swat, says there are acute food shortages because government deliveries are too slow, and we wonder how we will rebuild our home, because much of it is damaged," Mohammad Suleiman, 25, who is hoping to return as soon as he can find transport, told IRIN.

Suleiman, from a village near the town of Kabal in Swat, is planning to leave his parents, wife and four children behind at a Mardan camp "till I can make arrangements for them to move back and ensure there is shelter for them".

The Pakistan military has declared the districts of Swat and Buner clear of militants. But the problems awaiting the IDPs have already become apparent. While some 2,500 people, according to media reports, have now returned to Sultanwas, a small town of some 5,000 people in Buner, many have found their homes reduced to ruins. Most of the returnees - mostly men alone - are living in tents.

The lack of power and water in Sultanwas and other towns across the war zone adds to the problems for returnees, media reports say.

The authorities are aware of the problems. "Every family that leaves camps will get cash support from the government," Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmad, who is in charge of army operations against the Taliban in northern areas, told the media.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Information Minister for the NWFP government, told IRIN: "Everything possible needs to be done to rehabilitate the IDPs." He also said tough security measures would remain in place to avoid any return by Taliban militants.

For those going home and others planning on following, the sense of insecurity remains high, despite such reassurances. "We can only hope and pray the commitments made will be kept. In this conflict, we have lost homes, livestock, lands and shops. Food supplies are scarce, prices are sky-high. We need help to survive," Fazil Khan, 50, from Mingora in Swat, told IRIN.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (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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