May 8th, 2009 16:41 EST
UN Concered Over Massive Displacement In Pakistan
The United Nations agencies tasked with protecting refugee and children`s rights today expressed deep concern over the massive displacement in north-west Pakistan caused by the widening armed conflict between Government forces and militants.
The provincial government estimates between 150,000 to 200,000 people have already arrived in safer areas of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) over the last few days, with another 300,000 already on the march or about to leave, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
UNHCR noted that those fleeing the latest escalation of hostilities in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat join another 555,000 previously displaced Pakistanis who had fled their homes in the tribal areas and NWFP.
The new influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) will place huge pressure on the resources already shared by around 93,000 people sheltering in 11 UNHCR-supported camps and over 450,000 staying in rental accommodation or host families.
To date, more than 83,000 recent IDPs from Buner, Dir, and Swat have been registered, including almost 5,000 staying in three new camps and more than 78,000 people who are staying outside of camps.
In Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and other urban centres of the Punjab, UNHCR has registered a further 40,000 displaced people mainly from Bajaur, Mohmand and Swat over the past two weeks.
As part of a joint UN response to the influx of people fleeing the fighting in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat over the past week, UNHCR has helped establish three new camps, including Jalala and Shiekh Shehzad camps in Mardan and Yar Hussain in Swabi district.
In the last two days, an increasing number of families from Swat have gone to the Jalala camp, travelling in rickshaws, cars, small trucks and buses with little more than the clothes on their backs, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.
New arrivals told UNHCR staff that they had trouble finding transport and had to pay steep prices to hire vehicles. One family of 20 from Buner reported paying the equivalent of $350 to travel to the camp from their home. Another man from Mingora, Swat, drove with his family in his rickshaw a harrowing seven hours to reach the safety of Jalala camp in tears.
Yesterday, a new reception centre " the first of four planned centres " opened on the main Malakand Road at Jalala to give people food, water and information about the camps and registration centres. Plans to provide medical care and transport assistance at the reception centres, as part of the joint UN response, are also underway.
UNHCR is currently responding to the emergency with relief supplies " such as tents, plastic sheets, buckets, jerry cans, and kitchen sets " for 100,000 people, while buying additional supplies for an additional 200,000.
The majority of those worst affected are children, who have witnessed violence, experienced displacement, and faced interruptions to education and health services, " the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF) said in a news release.
UNICEF noted that it was working closely with its aid partners, as well as the Federal and Provincial governments to provide assistance for people staying with relatives and to support the three new camps established in the last week.
To prevent the spread of disease among children, UNICEF Pakistan is supplying the camps with safe water, sanitation facilities and hygiene kits. The agency has also vaccinated more than 10,000 children under five years of age at transit points, as well as provided ongoing support for orphans and unaccompanied children who are fleeing, including a primary school in one new camp with an enrolment of around 200 children.
The agency also expressed concern for the civilians, especially children, still living in combat zones and strongly urged all parties to take immediate measures to ensure that children are protected from the effects of armed conflict, and that aid workers and supplies for IDPs and civilians in conflict areas have safe passage.