Saturday, February 05, 2011

Pakistan: Fighting in north-west Pakistan may displace up to 90,000 people

A man displaced by the latest fighting carries aid items distributed by UNHCR

UN - The UN refugee agency today warned that military operations against insurgents in the north-west region of Pakistan known as Mohmand agency could displace up to 90,000 people by the end of February if the fighting intensifies.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which aims to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees worldwide, fighting has already displaced some 25,000 people over the past week.

UNHCR has established two new camps, mainly to accommodate people who have been fleeing the Sagi and Dawezai areas of Mohmand agency since military operations intensified on 27 January. The agency said that many of those arriving at the camps have little more than the clothes on their backs, and winter clothes and shelter are urgently required.

The two camps are the first to be established by UNHCR for conflict-displaced Pakistanis within the tribal areas of the north-west since military operations against insurgents began in 2008. In previous waves of conflict people fled to settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, seeking refuge in and around the city of Peshawar.

UNHCR has also deployed engineers, field and protection staff to Ghalanai, the administrative capital of Mohmand agency, and helped authorities to set up camps at Nahqi and Danish Kol to the north and north-east of Ghalanai. Each registered family receives a tent and other relief supplies – these typically include sleeping mats, blankets and kitchen utensils, and warm clothes for children.

People are also receiving hot meals and UNHCR is in discussions with the World Food Programme regarding the provision of food rations.

“While UNHCR has set up these camps within Mohmand agency, we are also advocating that displaced people be allowed to move further afield to stay with relatives and friends in Peshawar or other settled areas,” UNHCR's spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, said at a press briefing in Geneva. "We are urging authorities to ensure displaced people have freedom of movement and we have deployed staff to monitor the situation.”

Mr. Edwards said UNHCR is also concerned at reports from people arriving at camps that some young and middle-aged men have had difficulty leaving the conflict zone and are urging authorities to ensure that any screening activities to identify militants do not prevent civilians from leaving the area for safety.

Successive waves of conflict in Pakistan's tribal areas mean that today there are around one million people displaced, including almost 140,000 people from Mohmand agency. Of these, most live among host communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.