Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

ISIS attacks in Brussels

March 23, 2016
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Terrorist attacks in Brussels in a wider context of US imperial wars

zaventem-airport

by Dr. Nasir Khan

On 22 March 2016, some suicide bombers carried out their indiscriminate attacks on the innocent people in Brussels. Their acts of vicious violence are shocking and despicable.  ISIS has claimed responsibility for these attacks.

ISIS has shown once again that it can strike anywhere it chooses and by such violent actions,  it gains maximum publicity for its ideological stance and objectives. The murders of 22 March are part of the pattern that ISIS had established and since last year has extended its operations to Europe.  As the organisation has many sympathisers in different countries and many of its indoctrinated fanatics are willing to be suicide bombers, it shows its reckless attitude towards all it regards enemies or opponents.

Despite the utterly abominable crime we witnessed, we should also try to see the terrorist attacks in European countries like France and Belgium in a wider context. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and to some extent Pakistan also have been in the throes of imperial wars as well as internal conflicts for many decades. What has happened in Paris last year and now in Brussels was an extension of the violence from Iraq and Syria to Europe.

We rightly condemn what happens at the hands of fanatic terrorists in Europe but when it comes to US wars and EU interventions in the Islamic countries,  we, who live in the western hemisphere,  show little concern over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people there. Apparently, the people of the world are not in total darkness about the recent history of Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria. Under the slogan ‘War on Terror’, the US rulers with the help of their allies have pursued their geopolitical objectives by wars and terror, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Unfortunately, political leaders and the media show great reluctance to give the same attention to the vast numbers of innocent victims of genocidal wars. However, when it comes to any terrorist attack anywhere in the west they give a forceful response to any acts of violence and terror. Such attitudes are unhealthy and discriminatory. In fact, religious fanatics take advantage of such debunked standards and successfully show the enmity of the western nations towards Muslims. The aim of propaganda is not to inform and enlighten but to terrify and mislead. In this, US rulers have been the role model for Muslim extremists.

Now let us briefly mention the role of recent US wars. It was no other power than the United States that unleashed the first Gulf War in 1991. The real objective of the United States was not only to evict the Iraqis out of Kuwait but also to diminish the power or potential of Iraq as a regional power.

In fact, President Saddam Hussein had accepted the UN terms for military withdrawal from Kuwait to end his occupation, but US rulers did not allow him to do so. There was a simple reason for this:  A peaceful withdrawal of Iraqi army from Kuwait would have left Saddam’s military power and military hardware intact. That was not acceptable to Washington and the Pentagon hawks. Therefore, they attacked and destroyed brutally the retreating and helpless Iraqi army.

General Colin Powell boasted of having killed so many encircled soldiers and burying many thousands of them alive in the desert. By such bravery, he must have added another medal to his uniform.  Saddam had no options left. The United States initiated and imposed sanctions on Iraq with the formal approval the United Nations. Incidentally, such a formal U.N. approval has the magic to make any major war crime by the US rulers legitimate! The United States has exploited this façade of the U.N. approval routinely.

We rightly condemn what happens at the hands of fanatic terrorists in Europe but when it comes to US wars and EU interventions in the Islamic countries,  we, who live in the western hemisphere,  show little concern over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people there.

In 2003, America took the second major step to invade and occupy Iraq.  This practically meant finishing off Iraq as a possible regional power if it ever raised its head at some future date. That was in consonance with the neocon strategy to have only one regional big power in the Middle East that was both strategically and politically indispensable part of U.S. hegemonic power and dominance. That regional power was and is Israel.Without an iota of credible ground or reason, President George W. Bush declared war on Iraq and invaded a vast secular Arab country, which did not let any religion or sect to interfere with the affairs of the state. After a massive destruction by the invaders of life, property and infrastructure in Iraq, President Bush became the eventual conqueror and master of Iraq and of its rich oil resources.

As a matter of imperial policy to divide and rule, the Americans started the sectarian favouritism that fuelled sectarian violence and killings. Even after the ‘nominal’ ending of the occupation, the fire of sectarian violence America had ignited to further its objectives is still raging on. Thousands and thousands of innocent Iraqis have died.

The forces of terror, revenge, religious sectarianism and fanaticism that American rulers unleashed in Iraq are out of control; no one is able to control them. Only the ordinary people of Iraq have become the victims of the genocidal war in Iraq. The mayhem and anarchy America created in Iraq has extended beyond the frontiers of Iraq.

Out of the ensuing chaos and instability in Iraq arose ISIS and its Islamist fanatics. ISIL is a direct result of US wars on Iraq. President Bush has said that God asked him to invade Iraq. If the killing of  hundreds of thousands of Iraqis can be  justified because of  listening to the command of God then ISIL can also invoke the support of the  same God for whatever they do or have plans to do! In fact, the US Constitution allowed for a democratic form of government, not a theocracy; ISIL, on the other hand, claims to be a theocracy and its administrative structure is that of a caliphate.  According to its way of interpreting, ISIS has ‘God on its side’.

Another major US imperial adventure was in Afghanistan. It is common knowledge that the United States was instrumental in creating and arming the Mujahidin to fight the Soviet army that had come to help the Afghan revolutionary government. After the Soviet leaders pulled their military from Afghanistan, the American-sponsored Mujahidin of 1980s became the Taliban, the new rulers of Afghanistan.

There is no doubt that the Soviet army suffered heavily in Afghanistan. The US imperialists, with the help of reactionary Saudi and Pakistani rulers and their well-equipped mercenary fighters crushed the Afghan revolution. In this way, they turned the clock of history back by empowering the primitive Mujahidin/Taliban. But that friendship did not last long.

In 2001, America attacked Afghanistan and ended the Taliban rule. The occupiers started a brutal suppression of the Afghans who had no quarrel with America at all. During their long Afghan war, Americans were not able to break the resistance of the Afghan patriots and the Taliban. They finally forced the occupiers to end their occupation. The puppet regime of the former president Karzai and now the present president Ghani have faced the consequences of the imperial invasion. The country suffered enormously and its people reduced to abject poverty and deprivation. At present, the Taliban are still there and fighting the Kabul government.

In short, countless millions of people have suffered in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Whether we call it a civil war or war by proxy by regional powers, the war in Syria has reduced many cities to rubble. Hundreds of thousands have died.  Millions of Syrians have become homeless. They are trying to escape to any place where they can exist as normal human beings.

Other victims of wars from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and numerous other countries also join them in this quest for a safe haven in Europe. These people are in dire difficulties who need all the possible help. However, it is also important to underline the fact that Europe has no solution to the problems of millions of refugees and asylum seekers. Their number will keep on multiplying, not decreasing. Those who think otherwise live in a world of fantasy.

By attacking innocent civilians in France, Belgium and Turkey, ISIS is able to create a sense of insecurity and fear throughout Europe. No state or public authority can provide complete safeguards against any random attacks. There is no shortage of weapons in Europe or anywhere else. Those who want to commit any terrorist attack will be able to acquire any bombs or weapons they need.  It is a false hope that any intelligence agencies in an open society can stop all indoctrinated and ideologically motivated suicide bombers from their criminal behaviour.

Most of the western societies including Australia have become multi-cultural and multi-religious that have ethnic communities of Afro-Asian origin. Among the immigrant communities, strong social bonds exist through their tribal and religious identities. While the western societies have developed a more relaxed attitude towards their religions and deities, most of the immigrants have gone the other way. There is a strong tendency to adhere to the formal religious traditions where their clerics play a vital social role. Any terrorist attack has negative consequences for these people, especially the Muslims.  They become suspect merely because some Muslim terrorist has done something seriously wrong, somewhere. This strengthens cultural and social stereotypes.

– See more at: http://www.mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/57987-isis-attacks-in-brussels.html#sthash.TYCQ5Nod.dpuf

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Over 1200 Afghan families flee allied attacks

February 17, 2010

Daily  Telegraph, February 17, 2010
From: AFP

AT least 1240 families fled a massive military onslaught against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, Helmand authorities said today.

No camps were set up for the displaced in case they became permanent structures, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand governor Mohammad Gulab Mangal.

“We deliberately did not give permission for the camps to be set up for the 1240 families who are displaced because we did not want the camps to become permanent,” he said.

Continues >>

Pakistani army offensive devastates tribal communities

October 28, 2009

By James Cogan, wsws.org, Oct 28, 2009

The ongoing Pakistani military offensive into the tribal agency of South Waziristan is having a devastating impact on the entire civilian population. Villages and towns are literally being bombed into rubble and tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee for their lives.

Continues >>

 

Pakistan’s Refugees Swell As U.S. Policy Criticized

October 19, 2009

NPR, October 18, 2009

As Pakistan mounts a major ground offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban militants, hundreds of thousands of Pakistani refugees remain in dire need of emergency relief. That’s the take-away from a report, expected later this month, from the humanitarian advocacy group Refugees International. The group’s findings are described as being highly critical of U.S. policy in Pakistan. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Patrick Duplat of Refugees International on the group’s recent trip to Pakistan.

Continues >>

Anti-racist Jews against racist Zionism

July 25, 2009

Editorial

Gideon Polya, Media with Conscience, July 24, 2009

Image

The World has been horrified by latest Gaza Massacre inflicted by Apartheid Israel on what the Catholic Church describes as Gaza Concentration Camp – over 1,300 Palestinians killed (one third being children) and over 5,000 wounded in response to zero Israeli deaths from Gaza missiles in the preceding year.

This latest Israeli atrocity has highlighted the utter racist obscenity of the continuing 42 year Occupation and has led to growing indignation against Apartheid Israel and the Zionists and other Western neocons who support Jewish colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The racist Zionists routinely falsely condemn critics of the State of Israel as “anti-Semites” and indeed extend this false abuse to Jewish critics of Zionism by falsely calling them “self-hating Jews” as well as “anti-Semites”.

Anti-Semitism means damaging Semitic people in word or deed for being ethnically or culturally Semitic (something Semites can’t help being), noting that Semites include 300 million Arab Semites, 1,500 million culturally Semitic Muslims and 15 million largely culturally Semitic Jews.

Continued >>

Baffling indifference to Pakistani ‘exodus’ trauma

June 22, 2009

PAUL O’BRIEN | The Irish Times, June 22, 2009

OPINION: An unprecedented human drama is unfolding in Pakistan and yet few in the wider world are paying attention. Why?

THE STORY is there is no story. The question is “why?” As I remember the destruction and death in north western Pakistan after the earthquake in October 2005, an event that attracted huge international attention and propelled frontline international aid agencies like Concern Worldwide to begin their rapid response emergency work, little did I know then that some four years later over two million people would be on the move in this part of the country, internally displaced by a sustained and ferociously intense military conflict between the Pakistani army and Taliban insurgents.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres has said of the current situation that he doesn’t recall “any internal displacement crisis in which so many people have moved in such a short amount of time”. Since early May, these two million people have felt compelled to leave their homes, farms, communities and villages.

Continued >>

Longer wars leave millions in limbo

June 20, 2009
Al Jazeera, June 20, 2009
By Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
More than 130,000 Somalis have been displaced following renewed fighting in recent months [AFP]

As we mark World Refugee Day on June 20, the number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide stands at more than 42 million – including 16 million refugees outside their countries and 26 million others displaced internally.This overall total reflects global displacement figures compiled at the end of 2008 by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), but the number has already grown substantially since the beginning of this year with more large displacements in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia totalling well over 2.3 million  people.

And there are more worrisome signs on the horizon.

While some displacement situations are short-lived, others can take years and even decades to resolve. At present, for example, UNHCR counts 29 different groups of 25,000 or more refugees in 22 nations who have been in exile for five years or longer.

This means that nearly 6 million refugees are living in limbo, with no solutions in sight. Millions more internally displaced people (IDPs) are also unable to go home in places like Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia.

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In addition to prolonged conflict and the increasingly protracted nature of displacement, we are also seeing a decline in the number of refugees and internally displaced people going home.In 2008, about 2 million people were repatriated, but that was a sharp drop from the year before.

Refugee repatriation, at 604,000, was down 17 per cent in 2008, while IDP returns dropped by 34 per cent. It was the second-lowest repatriation total in 15 years and the decline, in part, reflects deteriorating security conditions, namely in Afghanistan and Sudan.

Last year, we also saw a 28 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers making individual claims, with 839,000 people seeking asylum. South Africa was the largest single recipient of individual asylum claims with 207,000 applications, followed by the US with 49,600, France with 35,400 and Sudan with 35,100.

The global economic crisis, gaping disparities between North and South, growing xenophobia, climate change, the relentless outbreak of new conflicts and the intractability of old ones all threaten to exacerbate this already massive displacement problem.

We and our humanitarian partners are struggling to ensure that these uprooted people and the countries hosting them get the help they need and deserve.

Disproportionate burden

Some 80 per cent of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people are in developing nations, underscoring the disproportionate burden carried by those least able to afford it as well as the need for more international support.

It also puts into proper perspective alarmist claims by populist politicians and media that some industrialised nations are being “flooded” by asylum seekers.

Most people forced to flee their homes because of conflict or persecution remain within their own countries and regions in the developing world.

Thousands have been displaced in Pakistan following an army offensive in Swat [AFP]

Major refugee-hosting nations in 2008 included Pakistan, home to 1.8 million refugees before the Swat offensive in early 2009, Syria with 1.1 million, Iran with 980,000, Germany with 582,700, Jordan with 500,400, Chad with 330,500, Tanzania with 321,900 and Kenya with 320,600. Major countries of origin for refugees included Afghanistan (2.8 million) and Iraq (1.9 million), which together account for 45 per cent of all UNHCR refugees.

Others were Somalia (561,000); Sudan (419,000); Colombia (374,000), and the DRC (368,000). Nearly all of these countries are in the developing world.

Unfortunately, however, we cannot say that generosity and wealth are proportional to each other.

As conflicts drag on with no political solutions, the pressure on many of these poor countries is near breaking point. They need more international help now.

Without it, UNHCR and other aid agencies will be forced to continue making heartbreaking decisions on which necessities must be denied to uprooted families.

Of the global total of uprooted people in 2008, UNHCR cares for 25 million, including a record 14.4 million internally displaced people, up from 13.7 million in 2007, and 10.5 million refugees.

The other 4.7 million refugees are Palestinians under the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency.

Less protection for IDPs

Although international law distinguishes between refugees, who are protected under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and the internally displaced, who are not, such distinctions are absurd to those who have been forced from their homes and who have lost everything.

Uprooted people are equally deserving of help whether they have crossed an international border or not.

Internally displaced
26m IDPs in total with 14.4m under UN care
Colombia: 3m IDPs
Iraq: 2.6m IDPs compared to 2.4m in 2007
DR Congo: 1.5m IDPs
Somalia: 1.3m IDPs not including 2009 displacements

Source: UNHCR 2008

That is why UNHCR is working with other UN agencies to jointly provide the internally displaced with the help they need, just as we do for refugees.My agency’s caseload of internally displaced has more than doubled since 2005.

Displaced populations include Colombia with some 3 million; Iraq with 2.6 million; Sudan’s Darfur region with more than 2 million; Eastern DRC with 1.5 million and Somalia with 1.3 million.

Other increases in displacement in 2008 were in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Georgia and Yemen.

Just as the international community felt an obligation to spend hundreds of billions rescuing the international financial system, it should feel the same urgency to rescue some of the most vulnerable people on earth – refugees and the internally displaced.

And the amount needed is only a fraction of that spent on financial bailouts.

Finding solutions for more than 40 million people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution is difficult, but not impossible.

With the necessary political will and humanitarian support from the international community, we can ease the suffering of the world’s uprooted people and finally bring their exile to an end.

António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, has been UN High Commissioner for Refugees since 2005.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera editorial policy.

British Red Cross: Urgent appeal for civilians suffering in Pakistan crisis

June 18, 2009
British Red Cross

17 June 2009

As the monsoon season threatens to make conditions worse, the British Red Cross has launched an urgent appeal to help civilians affected by the fighting in Pakistan. Group of men carrying their belongings through a camp

As the conflict in the Swat Valley and Lower Dir region continues, thousands more people have joined the 2.5 million who have already fled their homes with the bare minimum of belongings. Some camps are now at full capacity, forcing new arrivals to pitch tents or makeshift shelters along roadsides and on any available land. Meanwhile, the civilians still caught in the fighting are virtually cut off from basic healthcare, food and water.The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Pakistan Red Crescent are providing help, including emergency shelter, medical aid, food and other provisions to both those displaced and those trapped by the fighting. The ICRC is currently the only aid agency able to operate in the Swat Valley and Dir regions.

Urgent funding needed

Despite generous support received so far, the Red Cross still needs an extra £37 million, as there is no sign of an end to the fighting and conditions for civilians are deteriorating.

Ros Armitage, British Red Cross conflict operations manager, said: “The monsoon season begins in July, and here we have a situation where thousands upon thousands of people are living with host families or in tents, or shelters made from whatever materials they can lay their hands on.

”The money raised through the new appeal will help the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement provide food, basic household items and critical medical services, not only to those in camps but those with host families and also to the civilian population trapped in the conflict areas, where no other agencies are reaching.”

Red Cross/Red Crescent response

This is the largest and fastest growing displacement in 15 years. Up to 120,000 people are living in camps but the vast majority are dispersed throughout North West Frontier Province and other parts of the country, staying with relatives or in rented accommodation, creating an economic burden on host communities.

The Pakistan Red Crescent, with support from the ICRC, is running nine camps for displaced people, including the Shah Mansoor camp in Swabi which hosts 20,000 people. In Peshawar, the ICRC surgical hospital is providing critical assistance to victims of the conflict.

The Movement has stepped up its support considerably and plans to help at least 380,000 displaced people in the coming weeks and months in the area affected by conflict and those who have fled from the conflict.

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In America Fear Rules

June 11, 2009

Who Spent All That Money For What?

By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS | Counterpunch, June 10, 2009

The power of irrational fear in the US is extraordinary.  It ranks up there with the Israel Lobby, the military/security complex, and the financial gangsters.  Indeed, fear might be the most powerful force in America.

Americans are at ease with their country’s aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, which has resulted in a million dead Muslim civilians and several million refugees,  because the US government has filled Americans with fear of terrorists.  “We have to kill them over there before they come over here.”

Fearful of American citizens, the US government is building concentration camps, apparently all over the country.  According to news reports, a $385 million US government contract was given by the Bush/Cheney Regime to Cheney’s company, Halliburton, to build “detention centers” in the US. The corporate media never explained for whom the detention centers are intended.

Most Americans dismiss such reports.  “It can’t happen here.”  However, In northeastern Florida not far from Tallahassee, I have seen what might be one of these camps.  There is a building inside a huge open area fenced with razor wire.  There is no one there and no signs.  The facility appears new and unused and does not look like an abandoned prisoner work camp.

What is it for?

Who spent all that money for what?

There are Americans who are so terrified of their lives being taken by terrorists that they are hoping the US government will use nuclear weapons to  destroy “the Muslim enemy.”  The justifications concocted for the use of nuclear bombs against Japanese civilian populations have had their effect.  There are millions of Americans who wish “their” government would kill everyone that “their” government has demonized.

When I tell these people that they will die of old age without ever seeing a terrorist, they think I am insane. Don’t I know that terrorists are everywhere in America?  That’s why we have airport security and homeland security.  That’s why the government is justified in breaking the law to spy on citizens without warrants.  That’s why the government is justified to torture people in violation of US law and the Geneva Conventions.  If we don’t torture them, American cities will go up in mushroom clouds.  Dick Cheney tells us this every week.

Terrorists are everywhere.  “They hate us for our freedom and democracy.”  When I tell
America’s alarmed citizens that the US has as many stolen elections as any country and that our civil liberties have been eroded by “the war on terror”  they lump me into the terrorist category.  They automatically conflate factual truth with anti-Americanism.

The same mentality prevails with regard to domestic crime.  Most Americans, including, unfortunately, juries, assume that if the police make a case against a person and a prosecutor prosecutes it, the defendant is guilty.  Most Americans are incapable of believing that police or a prosecutor would frame an innocent person for career or bureaucratic reasons or out of pure meanness.

Yet, it happens all the time.  Indeed, it is routine.

Frame-ups are so routine that 96 per cent of the criminally accused will not risk a “jury of their peers,” preferring to negotiate a plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor. The jury of their peers are a brainwashed lot, fearful of crime, which they have never experienced but hear about all the time.  Criminals are everywhere, doing their evil deeds.

The US has a much higher percentage of its population in prison than “authoritarian” countries, such as China, a one-party state.  An intelligent population might wonder how a “freedom and democracy” country could have incarceration rates far higher than a  dictatorship, but Americans fail this test.  The more people that are put in prison, the safer Americans feel.

Lawrence Stratton and I describe frame-up techniques in The Tyranny of Good Intentions. Police and prosecutors even frame the guilty, as it is easier than convicting them on the evidence.

One case that has been before us for years, but is resolutely neglected by the corporate media, whose function is to scare the people, is that of Troy Davis.

Troy Davis was convicted of killing a police officer.  The only evidence connecting him to the crime is the testimony of “witnesses,” the vast majority of whom have withdrawn their testimony.  The witnesses say they testified falsely against Troy Davis because of police intimidation and coercion.

One would think that this would lead to a new hearing and trial.  But not in America.  The Republican judicial nazis have created the concept of “finality.”  Even if the evidence shows that a wrongfully convicted person is innocent, finality requires that we execute him.  If the convicted person is executed, we can assume he was guilty, because America has a pure justice system and never punishes the innocent.  Everyone in prison and everyone  executed is guilty.  Otherwise, they they wouldn’t be in prison or executed.

It is all very simple if you are an American.  America is pure, but other countries, except for our allies, are barbaric.

The same goes for our wars.  Everyone we kill, whether they are passengers on Serbian commuter trains or attending weddings, funerals, or children playing soccer in Iraq, is a terrorist, or we would not have killed them. So was the little girl who was raped by our terrorist-fighting troops and then murdered, brutally, along with her family.

America only kills terrorists.  If we kill you, you are a terrorist.

Americans are the salt of the earth.  They never do any wrong.  Only those other people do.  Not the Israelis, of course.

And police, prosecutors, and juries never make mistakes.  Everyone accused is guilty.

Fear has made every American a suspect, eroded our rights, and compromised our humanity.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

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.


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