ISLAMABAD: The UN refugee agency has expressed deep concern over the safety of tens of thousands of displaced civilians and refugees in north-western Pakistan as it prepared to step up its humanitarian assistance to the region. “As part of the UN response, UNHCR is already sending humanitarian aid items to new camps that we are helping to set up in the Mardan and Swabi districts,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has said, according to a UNHCR statement.
“We are also assisting authorities to establish two new reception centres and two more are planned for newly displaced people on main routes adjacent to the conflict zone. We are also helping with their registration.
“In addition to helping displaced Pakistanis, I am also deeply concerned over the well-being of some 20,000 registered Afghan refugees who have been affected by the conflict in the Buner, Lower Dir and Upper Dir regions,” the High Commissioner added. “We have reports that many have fled together with the local population. Some have chosen to return to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance and others have chosen to relocate to existing refugee sites in Pakistan.”
The number of people so far displaced by the recent escalation of fighting between government forces and militants is not yet clear. North West Frontier Province authorities have said an additional 500,000 people from the conflict area in and around Swat could be affected by continuing and possible future hostilities. Over the past four days, UNHCR has helped authorities register nearly 45,000 people, and to establish 12 registration points for people fleeing the area.
Since August 2008, UNHCR has had a substantial internal displacement operation in Pakistan as part of the UN response. Before the recent escalation of hostilities in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat there were more than 555,000 internally displaced people from tribal areas and NWFP registered by UNHCR and authorities in North West Frontier Province. The vast majority of them – more than 462,000 people – are living in rental accommodation or with host families.
More than 93,000 others have been staying in 11 camps supported by UNHCR, other UN humanitarian agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent family. Guterres appealed to all parties to respect humanitarian principles and to ensure the protection and freedom of movement of civilians caught up in the conflict, as well as the safe passage of relief goods and humanitarian workers. NNI