Posts Tagged ‘displaced people’

Red Cross says millions of displaced are neglected

November 13, 2009

AFP Thursday, November 12

Internally displaced Afghan children stand in a tiny workshop where they weave carpets near Kabul in mid October. The international Red Cross has warned that the majority of the world’s 26 million displaced people were often neglected because they found refuge with local communities instead of in camps.

GENEVA (AFP) – – The international Red Cross on Thursday warned that the majority of the world’s 26 million displaced people were often neglected because they found refuge with local communities instead of in camps.

“The focus on camps means that what happens to the majority of displaced people — those who seek refuge with host communities — is often ignored,” International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said.

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At least 40,000 civilians in Pakistan’s Swat: Red Cross

June 11, 2009

At least 40,000 civilians in Pakistan's Swat: Red Cross AFP/File – Pakistani civilians queue for food Swabi. The Red Cross has warned that some 40,000 civilians remain …, Tue Jun 9, 11:52 am ET

GENEVA (AFP) – Some 40,000 civilians remain in Pakistan‘s troubled Swat region where they lack access to electricity and water amid a military assault against the Taliban, the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

“Every time we entered a village, hundreds of people asked for help,” said Michael von Bergen, an International Committee of the Red Cross representative who was part of a convoy delivering aid in the region last weekend.

“Those who did not leave are now desperate. They need food, clean water and working medical facilities,” he added in a statement.

The situation in the area “remains volatile,” assessed the ICRC, adding that a curfew remain in place in Swat.

Pakistan launched its push into Lower Dir, Buner and Swat in late April and early May after the Taliban advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad, violating a deal to put three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.

Pakistan has not released civilian casualty figures as a result of the operations but says more than 1,300 rebels have been killed. The fighting has displaced around 2.4 million people.

In Pakistan, an exodus that is beyond biblical

May 31, 2009

Locals sell all they have to help millions displaced by battles with the Taliban

By Andrew Buncombe | The Independent, UK, May 31, 2009

Saima is one of 37 refugees now sharing the house of a stranger. Their host, Rizwan Ali, 59, says: 'It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps'
World Vision

Saima is one of 37 refugees now sharing the house of a stranger. Their host, Rizwan Ali, 59, says: ‘It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps’

The language was already biblical; now the scale of what is happening matches it. The exodus of people forced from their homes in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and elsewhere in the country’s north-west may be as high as 2.4 million, aid officials say. Around the world, only a handful of war-spoiled countries – Sudan, Iraq, Colombia – have larger numbers of internal refugees. The speed of the displacement at its height – up to 85,000 people a day – was matched only during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This is now one of the biggest sudden refugee crises the world has ever seen.

Until now, the worst of the problem has been kept largely out of sight. Of the total displaced by the military’s operations against the Taliban – the army yesterday claimed a crucial breakthrough, taking control of the Swat Valley’s main town, Mingora – just 200,000 people have been forced to live in the makeshift tent camps dotted around the southern fringe of the conflict zone. The vast majority were taken in by relatives, extended family members and local people wanting to help.

But this grassroots sense of charity is slowly starting to show real strain. In a week when the relentless danger of the militants was underlined by a massive car bomb in the city of Lahore that killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds more, aid groups have warned that the communities taking people in – already some of the planet’s poorest people – could themselves be displaced as they desperately sell their few assets to help the homeless.

In these “homestay” situations, some that exist purely because of tribal links between the displaced and those opening their doors, anywhere from 10 to 15 people are crowded into one room. A single latrine is shared by, on average, 35 people. Aid groups have called for a large and immediate injection of funds to help these host families who have stood forward to help those with nothing.

Graham Strong, the country director of the charity World Vision, said: “Families have provided refuge for up to 90 per cent of those escaping the fighting. They are sharing their homes, food, clothes and water. They are poor already and are making themselves poorer in the process. As the disaster continues, hosts are having to sell their land, cattle and other assets at far less than the market value to keep providing for their guests. The cultural ethic of generosity and hospitality means hosts are now facing the agonising choice between asking guests to leave and becoming destitute and displaced themselves.”

Among those facing possible destitution as a result of his kindness is Rizwan Ali, 59, who lives in a village in the Buner district – another of the areas from which the military has been involved in a major operation against militants. When he heard about the countless people from nearby villages being forced to flee, he sent a truck to collect them. Now he shares his home with 37 strangers.

Confronted with this massive influx, Mr Ali – not his real name – has already sold a portion of his land to meet the additional burden. He has watched as other villagers, taking people in, have been pushed to the brink of impoverishment. He says they now face having to ask their guests to leave – something he would be loathe to do.

“It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps. It will be heartbreaking and will feel as though the earth has caved in on us,” said Mr Ali, who is already helping to look after the newborn baby of his daughter-in-law, who died in childbirth. “I’m exhausted, we have to play so many roles – host, provider, security, breadwinner,” he told aid workers.

Confronted by such circumstances, many of the host families of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have been selling cattle at a mere fraction of their normal value to raise funds. Others are pawning gold and jewellery for as little as 5 per cent of what it would usually generate. Certainly, those who arrived came with nothing, depending entirely on the generosity of their hosts.

“Our host has done a beautiful thing in taking us in and providing for us,” said one man staying at Mr Ali’s house. “He has given us food and shelter but most of all he has given us our dignity.”

One man, aged 90, said that because there had been no warning to leave, when the gunfire erupted around them they gathered what they could carry and fled. “Many of us didn’t even have any shoes. We walked [13 miles] on mountain paths. It took the whole day,” he said.

Another of those staying with Mr Ali is 12-year-old Saima. “I don’t know where my friends are. We were separated when we left,” said the young girl, who is helping to care for the household’s newborn baby. “It was scary when we ran. It was like my heart was beating in my feet as we ran. There was a time I couldn’t walk another inch because of ulcers under my feet, but the fear kept us going somehow.”

For all the humanitarian problems that the military operation against the Taliban has created, the Pakistani army and the government of Asif Ali Zardari believe they have no alternative but to carry on and try to crush the militants, who had taken control of several areas barely 60 miles from Islamabad. Under considerable international pressure, the military launched the operations earlier this month after a controversial ceasefire deal – under which the government allowed the operation of Islamic law, or sharia, in parts of the Swat Valley and elsewhere – fell apart.

The military claimed a strategic victory yesterday, saying it had taken control of almost all of Mingora. While troops were still meeting pockets of resistance on the outskirts of the town, Mingora itself was under the full control of the military, said a spokesman, Maj- Gen Athar Abbas. “As far as Mingora city, security forces have taken over,” he said. “There are still pockets of resistance. They are on the periphery of Mingora city.”

In addition to the humanitarian problem, of course, the military operation – which it claims has so far killed anywhere up to 1,100 militants – has already apparently led the Taliban into revenge attacks. After militants launched a gun and bomb attack on police and intelligence offices in Lahore last week, a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, one of the senior Taliban leaders, claimed responsibility and said the devastating attack – the third major incident in the Punjabi capital this year – had been carried out in response to what has been happening in Swat. The Taliban also threatened more attacks, raising the prospect of a fresh wave of suicide attacks in Pakistan’s major cities. The following day, at least 14 people were killed in suicide bombings in Peshawar.

Hakimullah Mehsud, a commander loyal to his namesake, told reporters: “We have achieved our target. We were looking at this target for a long time. It was a reaction to the Swat operation. We want the people of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Multan to leave those cities as we plan major attacks against government facilities in coming days.”

Yesterday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Gilani, defended the decision to launch the offensive, saying that the authorities had no genuine alternative.

“The very existence of Pakistan was at stake. We had to start the operation,” he said. While speaking to workers at state-owned Pakistan Television, Mr Gilani also promised payments of cash to help the hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes, as well as a massive reconstruction.

Such words, had they learned of them, would have been welcome to Rizwan Ali and the 37 people – strangers until this military operation began – squeezed into his home.

Two million rendered refugees by fighting in Pakistan

May 26, 2009
By Vilani Peiris |, 25 May 2009

The Pakistan military offensive against pro-Taliban militia in the country’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has produced a massive humanitarian crisis. More than one-and-a-half million people have fled their homes during the past month—the largest number of people to have been displaced by violence since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, reports the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The fighting and resulting exodus of Pashtuns from the NWFP is also exacerbating national-ethnic tensions in Pakistan, a country founded on communalism and beset by ethnic and religious-communal cleavages.

On Friday, the United Nations’ refugee agency (the UNHCR) issued an urgent appeal for $450 million, saying it had only raised $86 million of the $543 million it calculates it will need to finance UN-led efforts to support the refugees until the end of 2009.

“The scale of this displacement is extraordinary in terms of size and speed and has caused incredible suffering,” said the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja.

UN officials have repeatedly expressed concern that if the humanitarian crisis is not quickly addressed, the military offensive Islamabad has launched, under heavy pressure from Washington in the name of enforcing the writ of the Pakistani state over all its territory, could in fact greatly intensify opposition to the Pakistani government.

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Obama’s AfPak war engulfs Pakistan’s Swat Valley

May 23, 2009
By James Cogan |,  May23,  2009

A humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), as a result of the Obama administration’s expansion of the occupation of Afghanistan into the so-called “AfPak war”.

Over the past seven years, ethnic Pashtun Islamist movements in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have lent assistance to the resistance being waged against the American-led forces in Afghanistan by the Pashtun-based Taliban, including by disrupting US and NATO supply routes through Pakistan.

On Washington’s insistence, the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered the military to embark on operations to crush the militants. In late April, Pakistani forces deployed into the Lower Dir and Buner districts of NWFP to drive out a small number who had moved into the area from their strongholds to the north, in the Swat Valley district.

Since May 8, the operation, which now involves up to 18,000 Pakistani troops, backed by air support and heavy artillery, has extended deep inside the Swat Valley. Over the past two weeks they have engaged in a series of battles against the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Islamist fighters.

There is virtually no independent reporting from the conflict zone. Most information coming out of Swat is sourced directly from the military, making its accuracy questionable.

What is clear, however, is that the assault into Buner, Lower Dir and the Swat Valley has rapidly degenerated into the savage collective punishment of entire Pashtun communities. Hundreds of thousands of terrified civilians have taken to the roads to get out of the conflict zone. By the beginning of this week, the United Nations had registered 1.45 million internally displaced persons.

The exodus from just these three districts is becoming the greatest displacement of civilians on the Indian subcontinent since the 1947 partition of the British Raj into India and Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people have found themselves in squalid refugee camps, without adequate food, water and sanitation. Peasant farmers have had to flee right at the time when they need to harvest their crops, setting the stage for severe food shortages and malnutrition later in the year.

A factor in the mass evacuation is the sheer brutality with which the Pakistani military waged an offensive in the nearby tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand last year. Scores of towns and villages, including the major town of Loe Sam, were indiscriminately reduced to rubble in order to dislodge Taliban fighters. The government claims that over 1,500 militants were killed, while relief agencies estimate that over 500,000 people were forced from their homes. There is no estimate on the number of civilian deaths.

The depopulation of the Swat Valley is a conscious policy aimed at creating the best conditions for the military to slaughter the anti-government guerrillas there as well.

Reports indicate that a three-pronged offensive is underway to trap as many militants as possible in the central Swat city of Mingora. Army columns have pushed through Buner and Lower Dir and entered Swat from the south. Another column is moving through Swat from the north, while special forces units were dropped deep in the mountains to force Islamists out of the western Peochar Valley. In one bloody two-week battle for control of a mountain ridge known as Biny Baba Ziarat, the military claims to have slaughtered 150 Taliban, including boys no older than 14.

While the details are sketchy, the military has also waged significant battles to take control of a number of Swat towns, as well as the strategic bridges and roads linking Mingora with the outside world. It is already claiming that it has killed over 1,100 militants, at the cost of some 60 soldiers. Over recent days, troops have been fighting street-to-street battles in the town of Kanju, on the outskirts of Mingora proper.

An Al Jazeerah video shot on May 16 near Mingora showed helicopter gunships attacking highways and other targets; children playing among partially demolished homes; and the potholes caused by the controlled explosion of mines placed by militants on the roads.

The description of the situation in Mingora is reminiscent of Fallujah in November 2004, prior to the murderous US assault that destroyed the Iraqi city and left thousands dead.

Mingora previously had a population of some 250,000. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been told that as few as 10,000 people remain. The Pakistani government has provided a similar estimate, but declared those remaining are all “Taliban sympathisers,” in order to justify a massacre in advance.

HRW reported that Mingora has not had electricity since the offensive began, and hospitals and health facilities are not operating. Now, the army is cutting off food supplies. The city is believed to be defended by several thousand fighters, who have few heavy weapons and are being repeatedly pounded by air strikes and artillery bombardments.

Spelling out the intentions of the military, Major General Sajad Ghani told the Associated Press: “The noose is tightening around them. Their routes of escape have been cut off. It’s just a question of time before they are eliminated.”

The militants in Swat are followers of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law. While TNSM has ideological affinities with both the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban led by Baitullah Mehsud, it is a local organisation. It gained support in the district as a backlash against both Islamabad’s support for the US invasion of Afghanistan and anger over the endemic poverty that faces the majority of people in what was once one of the country’s premier tourist locations and playgrounds for Pakistan’s rich.

TNSM’s leaders, cleric Sufi Mohammad and his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, used a network of FM radio stations to combine Islamist preaching with populist calls for wealth redistribution and denunciations of the Pakistani government’s neglect of the poor. After several years of fighting, the Pakistani government agreed to a ceasefire with TNSM in February which accepted that its version of Islamic law could be imposed in the Swat Valley.

Over the following weeks, the TNSM sought to expand its influence to the neighbouring district of Buner, which is located only 100 kilometres to the north of Islamabad. This led to exaggerated claims by the Obama administration and in Western newspapers that the Pakistani government had allowed the “Taliban” to grow so strong that they were threatening to take over the country’s capital. The purpose of the accusation was to pressure Zardari and Gilani into unleashing the military to crush the spread of Islamist influence.

The government has made clear that the offensive to destroy TNSM is only the first stage of a campaign of military violence on behalf of the Obama administration. The Pakistani ruling elite fears being denied the international financial assistance they need to stave off economic collapse. At present, the Pakistani state is being kept afloat by loans from the International Monetary Fund and aid from the US and Japan.

Zardari told the British Sunday Times on May 17: “We’re going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.” He went on to appeal for $1 billion in emergency assistance aid. Thus far, the US and other powers have agreed to provide just $224 million.

The Pakistani Taliban strongholds in North and South Waziristan are of the greatest strategic concern to US occupation forces fighting in Afghanistan. Afghan fighters are known to use these tribal agencies, which are virtually outside the control of the Pakistani government, as safe havens and supply points.

The US military has launched repeated missile attacks on targets inside Waziristan using unmanned Predator drones. Illegal under international law, the strikes have resulted in the deaths of over 700 civilians but have only killed a handful of alleged Taliban leaders and had little impact on the cross-border movements of anti-occupation fighters.

A ground assault into Waziristan will see the Pakistani military in battle against the large Pashtun tribal forces loyal to Baitullah Mehsud and the Afghan Haqqani network. Periodic fighting since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 troops and unknown numbers of militants.

The Pakistani Taliban has responded to the threatened offensive with an ultimatum to the government that it has until May 25 to withdraw its troops from South Waziristan, end the Predator attacks and allow traffic in and out unchecked. Reports suggest Islamist fighters are strengthening defensive positions in anticipation of a military attack.

Fear of an offensive has triggered the beginnings of another mass civilian exodus. Several thousand Pashtun tribal families have arrived over recent days to take refuge in NWFP towns such as Tank, to the south of Waziristan. Officials cited by the Dawn newspaper on May 20 reported that 5,000 tents have been sent to the area in preparation for the influx of over 200,000 civilians.

Swat valley could be worst refugee crisis since Rwanda, UN warns

May 20, 2009

The human exodus from the war-torn Swat valley in northern Pakistan is turning into the world’s most dramatic displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the UN refugee agency warned.

Almost 1.5 million people have registered for assistance since fighting erupted three weeks ago, the UNHCR said, bringing the total number of war displaced in North West Frontier province to more than 2 million, not including 300,000 the provincial government believes have not registered. “It’s been a long time since there has been a displacement this big,” the UNHCR’s spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva, trying to recall the last time so many people had been uprooted so quickly. “It could go back to Rwanda.”

The army reported fierce clashes across Swat, a tourist haven turned Taliban stronghold. After a week of intense aerial bombardment with fighter jets and helicopter gunships the army has launched a ground offensive to drive out the militants to rout the militants from the valley. Commandos pushed through the remote Piochar valley, seizing a training centre and killing a dozen Taliban, a military spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, said. Gun battles erupted in several villages surrounding Mingora, Swat’s main town. Abbas said the military had killed 27 militants, including three commanders, and lost three members of the security forces. The figures could not be verified, as Swat has been largely cut off since the operation started.

The Taliban leader in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, remains at large. His spokesman vowed the rebels would fight until their “last breath”.

The operation continues to enjoy broad public support. Opposition parties endorsed the action at a conference called by the government, dispelling the notion that the army was fighting “America’s war”.

But that fragile unity could be threatened by heavy civilian casualties or a further deterioration in the conditions of the 2 million displaced. Returning from a three-day trip to Pakistan, the UNHCR head António Guterres termed the displacement crisis as “one of the most dramatic of recent times”. Relief workers were “struggling to keep up with the size and speed of the displacement,” a statement said.

The main difference with African refugee crises such as Rwanda, however, is that a minority of people are being housed in tented camps. According to the UN just 130,000 people are being accommodated in the sprawling, hot camps in Mardan and Swabi districts, while most are squeezed into the homes of friends or relatives, with as many as 85 people in one house.

Nevertheless aid workers and political analysts warn that if international aid to ease the crisis is not urgently delivered, the strain on the displaced and those helping them could lead to political destablisation. Acknowledging the scale of the crisis, the prime minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said: “The displaced men, women and children should not feel alone. We won’t leave any stone unturned in providing them help and protection.”

The UN is expected to launch an international appeal for aid running into hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming days.

Pakistan fighting sparks exodus

May 9, 2009
Al Jazeera, May 9, 2009

Appeal for funds to shelter the displaced
have been issued by aid agencies [Reuters]

Pakistan is preparing for a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of people flee fighting between the Taliban and government troops in the country’s northwest.

Helicopter gunships blasted Taliban positions in the Swat valley on Saturday, as frequent curfews prevented residents from joining those who have already fled.

Sohail Rahman, Al Jazeera’s correspondent reporting from Islamabad, said local residents faced heavy odds in fleeing the fighting,

“Its very difficult because as soon as sporadic fighting occurs between the military and the Taliban then the curfew – unannounced – gets reimposed in that area.”

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and Pakistani officials say that about half a million people have been displaced in the last few days since the Pakistani government launched a major offensive against the Taliban.

Another 500,000 people had reportedly been displaced by sustained violence in the region over the last few months, bringing the total number of displaced people to a million.

Aid appeal

Antonia Paradela, a spokeswoman for Unicef, the UN children’s rights organisation, said aid agencies would need more funding to cope with the influx of refugees.

In video

Swat fighting threatens Pakistan army unity
Behind Buner’s frontlines

“We need urgently more funds – for example Unicef needs at least $10m to continue helping the previous group of displaced families, which is more than half a million people. We’re talking now more than 200,000 – and more [are] on the move,” she told Al Jazeera.

The fighting has prompted the abandonment of a peace deal, agreed in February, between the government and the Taliban.

The pact, brokered by a local religious leader, allowed for the enforcement of the Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, across Malakand division – which includes Swat valley – in return for peace.

In depth

Video: Obama says Pakistan is toughest US challenge
Video: Turning to the Taliban
Video: Thousands flee Pakistan Taliban clashes
Q&A: The struggle for Swat
Talking to the Taliban
Pakistan’s war

The deal had been criticised both at home and abroad and  its critics, especially in the US, have welcomed the government’s offensive.During a visit to Washington, Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, pledged an all-out war against the Taliban fighters.

“This is an offensive – this is war. If they kill our soldiers, then we do the same,” Zardari told America’s PBS public television.

Zardari was in Washington for talks with Barack Obama, the US president, and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

For his part, Obama pledged a “lasting commitment” to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the US is itself fighting Taliban forces.

‘On the run’

Up to 15,000 members of the security forces have been deployed in Swat, located in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The military says it has killed scores of fighters and claims to be beating back the Taliban.

“They are on the run,” the army said in a statement on Saturday, without making clear exactly how much progress it had made in driving fighters from their positions.

People fleeing the area have also accused the military of killing civilians in its bombardment of the area.

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