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Anticipated military offensive drives thousands of Pakistanis from their homes - UN

16 October 2009 – The United Nations refugee agency said today that there have been new outflows of people from Pakistan’s South Waziristan region this week in anticipation of military operations against insurgents.

Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that as of early September, more than 80,000 displaced people from South Waziristan had been registered by local authorities in the districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Earlier this year, more than 2 million Pakistanis were displaced by the conflict between Government forces and militants in NWFP. Many of them have since returned to their homes.

UNHCR said that in recent days, local authorities have begun registering new arrivals, with more than 800 families registered over the past three days out of an estimated 2,000 families that have moved into the area.

“While some of the movement from South Waziristan may be seasonal migration, most families say they are fleeing expected bombardments,” said Mr. Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.

“If full-scale military operations are launched, the numbers of displaced people are likely to rise significantly.”

UNHCR has been working with local partners to distribute relief supplies, including plastic sheets, sleeping mats, jerry cans and kitchen sets, to internally displaced persons (IDPs) from South Waziristan.

While the agency has stocks of relief supplies in the area to assist new waves of displaced people, it said the key challenge is security and humanitarian access to people.

“We don’t expect further outflows of people on the scale that we saw coming out of Swat, Buner, Shangla and Dir earlier this year, when more than 2 million people had fled their homes,” Mr. Mahecic said. “But there will be additional operational challenges because of the volatile security environment in areas of displacement as well as in South Waziristan itself.”

He added that the deteriorating security situation in the country continues to hinder UNHCR’s humanitarian operations. “We have had to adjust our operations in the wake of attacks on UN staff and general insecurity, but we are committed to continuing our work to help displaced people in Pakistan.”

Meanwhile, UNHCR reported that there are fresh waves of displacement from Bajaur agency, also in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with reports that an estimated 1,000 families have already left the area.

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