Swat: The Neglected Exodus

After two months in a small tent with limited resources how worth-it is the journey back home?.For the displaced the journey has just begun.Imagine walking back into shattered houses,burned streets and the luscious valleys reeking of gunpowder.This is indeed a long journey back to life.

Photo Courtesy: Teeth Mestro
Photo Courtesy: Teeth Mestro

The Pakistani government has recently declared the notorious swat valley safe for the residents, and emphasized refugees return home. According to the International displacement centre over 3 million people have been displaced in the army offensive in swat valley . The UNHCR has termed it the second largest crises after Darfur. The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes has also continued to stress that the process should not be rushed, particularly as the security situation in the Swat valley remains fragile, and that basic security as well as power, water, law enforcement and administrative services must be in place prior to return.

Despite pressure from international community the Emergency Response Centre has announced schedules for IDPs home return. Earlier last month President Zardari announced a financial package for the displaced .

Dawn reports:

“The package was launched at a ceremony held at the presidency and attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, NWFP Governor Owais Ghani, BISP Chairperson Farzana Raja, federal ministers, members of parliament and senior government officials.

Speaking on the occasion, the President said the IDPs would get all possible support and they would soon honorably return to their homes

‘We will develop a new Malakand. The government will help you out in every possible way. Your houses will be reconstructed and would be better than the previous ones,’ he said.

He promised a sum of $ 12 per month for each family as they make their way back home. In spite of the announcement it appears that there has been no functional strategy laid down . According to reports:

‘ Over 5000 displaced people living in tents in Kund Park ,on the bank of Indus, demonstrated against the poor living conditions. The hunger strike continued till the filing of a report and the protesters said it would continue till the acceptance of their demands.’
More protests were seen as angry crowd blocked Chardsada road in Peshawar. Chanting anti Government, slogans and burning tires, people demanded immediate access to promised funds. Geo News a Leading news channel covered the protest and gave eyewitness accounts“ The affectees of Malakand residing in Shaikh Shahzad camp staged protest demonstration against camp administration for non-availability of relief goods and blocked the Mardan- Charsadda Road.The IDPs chanting slogans against the administration and demanded weekly ration and cash aid, which was promised by the government. They also demanded government to make sure their safe return to homes.”

Dawn News revealed disturbing facts “ Police broke up a protest by internally displaced persons against the delay in providing them relief money and goods at Charsadda Road here on Wednesday, using batons and tear gas.
Witnesses said police thrashed Larama union council Nazim Malik Bakht Naseer for supporting the IDPs and detained him at Khazana police station”. Provided the intense desperation among the displaced , violent reactions from police are feared to worsen the situation.

The ill-treatment of the protesters by the police is shameful. Keeping in mind the increasing number of protests,  in the country, we should at least be able to acknowledge that violent reactions do not help. This will only worsen the situation more and cause more frustration to pile up. Its important to note that these people have been displaced and neglected. The Authorities negligence can be determined by the poor living conditions and failure to provide aid.

Photo Courtesy: Muslimmatters.org
Photo Courtesy: Muslimmatters.org

Following the Protests Provincial Relief Commissioner and in-charge ERU Muhammad Azam Khan said

“ Strict notice will be taken of IDPs’ complaints appearing in different sections of the press. Concerned authorities have been directed to submit report to ERU immediately.”

Now these are the kind of announcements we hear quite often with no substantial output. The Authorities usually promise more than they can deliver.  While the people continue to protest and complain about poor aid facilities, the authorities paint a different picture.Quite the usual one perhaps.

The ERU websites announces distribution of over 210,960 activated ATM cards. Furthermore it puts the total transacted amount to over $53 million . However the growing number of protests puts up a question mark on the authenticity of these figures. For those of us who are aware of the

Despite constant  reconfirmations provided by authorities the speculations appears to be on the rise both in media and among the people.

Naveen Naqvi Anchor at Breakfast at Dawn TV shares her concern “ I happened to ask political analyst, Imtiaz Gul, if the battle for hearts and minds had already been lost given many of the refugees did not want to return home as they had not received the government-promised cash cards of Rs.25,000 per family. He concluded that, “The main point is the loss of dignity for these people. They will start living a normal life if the environment is secure and their fundamental needs are addressed. Secure environment means army, police and civil administration”
Junaid Khan of Pro-Pakistan feels “ The government is not doing enough. There hasn’t been a clear cut strategy since the refugees started pouring in. Having lived in Peshawar I can understand the heat wave and the dire conditions that can arise due to unavailability of clean water and food’

Those working on ground reflect deep concern over Government’s lack of strategy. Fawad Afridi Co-founder of NGO Mission Rescue Pakistan shares on ground stories

“ Around 85% IDP’s are the main issue, as they are not living in the camps, they have been dispersed in the outskirts of various stations, or moved to other cities/towns/districts and aid is not reaching to them at all.These IDP’s have left their places is such emergency that most of them haven’t brought their CNIC’s with them, and government has strictly instructed NGO not to entertain anyone who is without CNIC means without Registration. The lack of a swift registration system , will make many refugees obsolete to the promised aid.”

Dr Awab, a renowned political blogger, also ran a relief campaign for the IDPs. According to Dr. Awab

Government was trying its best – but its attempt to underplay the number of IDP was a ploy with disastrous effect – 1.3 million official but the original number was more than  2.5 million.

Picture Courtesy: Dr.Awab (teeth.com.pk/blog)
Picture Courtesy: Dr.Awab (teeth.com.pk/blog)
Picture Courtesy: Dr.Awab (teeth.com.pk/blog)

Its apparent that the Government needs to lay down a long term strategy for rehabilitation of the displaced people. With the increasing number of protests in the refugee camps and prevailing uncertainties among people, this can no longer be avoided. In the absence of a long term plan there are significant chances of more anger and protest piling up among the refugees. Moreover in the current phase of rehabilitation lack of trust in the Government strategy is bound to provoke more unrest. It is hoped that the Authorities are able to tackle the situation to avoid a volatile humanitarian crisis.Let’s help our displaced countrymen get back to the life they deserve. A life they sacrificed so that the rest of us could feel safer.Its our time now to welcome them back to the luscious green valleys of swat.


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