PAKISTAN: IDP hosts increasingly wary of undercover militants
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, 29 October 2009 (IRIN) - Fear and a growing wariness on the part of potential IDP hosts means some South Waziristan internally displaced persons (IDPs) are finding it hard to get accommodation in the neighbouring districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank.
"No one is ready to take us, because they think we are sympathetic to the militants battling government forces," said Wazirullah Mehsud, 60.
He also believes that because those fleeing the battle zone are Mehsuds - from the same tribe as the leaders of the Taliban based in South Waziristan - hosts are sometimes reluctant to take them in.
"The thing is that some of the people coming from South Waziristan could be militants. Dera Ismail Khan has seen many bomb attacks and other violent incidents in recent years. We are scared to keep people from South Waziristan in our homes, especially when many of them are men, because they could have links to the militants," said Salim Khan, a local shopkeeper.
Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistan military, told the media: "Militants are shaving their beards and mingling with ordinary people to try and flee."
Continuing attacks are adding to people's apprehensions. A car bomb in a crowded market area in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, killed at least 100 people on 28 October.
"Such news makes us afraid, even though we want to help people in trouble," said Aleem Ahmed, an electrician based in Dera Ismail Khan. He said he was "thinking about" a request from a friend to host an IDP family.
The Mehsud and Wazir tribes make up most of the 500,000 population of South Waziristan, one of seven tribal territories adjacent to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. The current leader of the Taliban, Hakeemullah Mehsud, like his predecessor, the late Baitullah Mehsud, belongs to the larger Mehsud tribe.
"I have had many problems even finding a room to rent. Because I am on my own, with my two sons, people think we may be militants," said Asad Mehsud, 60. His wife and daughters-in-law have moved to Peshawar, where the family has relatives.
Other IDPs, particularly those who have close relatives in Dera Ismail Khan, face fewer problems. "We have been well looked after by my cousin and his family. Even though they have five children themselves, and it has been hard to add seven more to their household, they have been kind and have taken us in," said Saifullah Mehsud.
"As far as we know the IDPs are still staying with host families," Billi Bierling, public information officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Islamabad, told IRIN. She said the overall registration figure of IDP families from South Waziristan had reached 33,371. In Dera Ismail Khan and Tank 1,689 IDP families were registered on 28 October, as the influx from conflict-hit areas continues. No formal IDP camps have been set up as yet.
For some IDPs, especially women who have in many cases never left their villages, the experience is a bewildering one. "I had never seen water flow from taps inside homes, or used a toilet that flushes," said Waseefa Bibi, 25, a mother of two. She is also delighted with the nappies donated to her for her three-month-old baby, saying, "now I know how to put one on."
However, Waseefa and other displaced women, have problems too: "We live in a house belonging to our hosts, with 13 people in four rooms. Our hosts are not close relatives, and it is hard for me and my sister-in-law to maintain 'purdah' [seclusion from men who are not blood relatives observed by some women on the basis of religious belief]. We also feel very shy going to the toilet when the men are around," Waseefa told IRIN.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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