The United Nations refugee agency said today it has opened two new camps in Pakistan`s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to house thousands of people who took advantage of the lifting of a curfew over the weekend to flee fighting in the Swat Valley.
Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that most of the families fled the Mingora and Char Bagh areas in Swat district to seek refuge in n Mardan, Swabi and Charsadda districts of the province.
To respond to this new influx, UNHCR, its partners and NWFP authorities have established two new camps in Charsadda and Peshawar districts. Sugar Mill camp, in Charsadda, received 400 families, or 2,400 individuals, yesterday and more people are expected to arrive today, Mr. Redmond said.
Some families who arrived in Sugar Mill yesterday told our teams that they had been living in their basement for a month. They said they were about to run out of food when the curfew was finally lifted last Saturday and Sunday and they were told to evacuate the area. One family said they ate spinach and bread for 25 days before they were finally able to leave their home for safety, he stated.
The displaced cited shortages of food and medicine as major problems for those who remain stranded in the conflict zone, Mr. Redmond added.
Yesterday, the UN said the number of people displaced by the conflict in NWFP has risen above 2.5 million, and a shortage of funds could cut relief services there.
More than two million people have been driven from their homes by clashes between the Government and militants in the past month, in addition to the 400,000 already displaced in fighting last year.
According to media reports, the Pakistani army has stepped up its offensive in the Swat Valley and other areas of the Province as part of its expanded campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaida.
Mr. Redmond said UNHCR provided relief kits for 850 families, including mats, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, jerry cans, and blankets in the Sugar Mill camp. The local government provided tents and labour to clear the site, he said, and the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF) is helping to install latrines.