In Pakistan, an uncertain future for displaced families in host communities
By David Youngmeyer
Mr. Afridi has shouldered many worries since he, his wife Shaheena, and their six children, between ages 2 and 18, fled the renewed insecurity in Khyber Agency in February. Mr. Afridi was a farmer back home, and most of his children attended school. But the area had been volatile for some time, he said. When violence flared, the family would move temporarily to a safer place, sometimes for up to a week. When things calmed down, they returned home. But when the recent mortar shelling started, they decided it was time to leave. “It became too dangerous to stay,” Mr. Afridi said. Three people in the village were killed.
‘A miserable situation’
More than 240,000 people have been registered as displaced from Khyber Agency since January. Although about 57,000 live at Jalozai camp, in neighbouring Nowshera District, the remainder choose to live in host communities, with the majority in Peshawar and Nowshera districts.
Mr. Afridi’s family walked for a day before hiring a van to bring them to this dusty village, where relatives said there was a vacant house. The one-room mud-brick house has a dirt floor, no running water, no bathing facilities, and no toilet except for a hole in the ground. They are plagued by flies and, at night, by mosquitoes.
When they first arrived, they registered as displaced at Jalozai camp and were issued essential supplies such as food, a UNICEF hygiene kit, and UNICEF jerry cans and buckets for holding water. But it has been difficult to get more assistance.
“It’s hard to go back to the camp to get more supplies,” said Mr. Afridi, who does not have a means of transportation. He has found work as a labourer in the gravel factory, where he earns only enough for the family to get by.
The children have been in poor health, experiencing diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Only one son goes to school, and one daughter attends a madrassa, or religious school. “We can’t go to school and study because there is no money for school,” said 6-year-old Shazeen.
“The children have suffered a lot,” said Shaheena. “They don’t have any schooling or recreational facilities. They sit at home. We are faced with a miserable situation.”
Struggling to get by
Nearby, Noor Jahan, 53, sits on a rope bed outside her rented mud-brick house. Her son was killed in a bombardment before her family fled their village about two months ago.
Tragedy struck again when they reached Peshawar: Ms. Jahan’s husband fell ill and died, leaving Ms. Jahan the head of the family, responsible for the well-being of her daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.
She said she registered at Jalozai and received assistance, but finds it difficult to get more supplies. She has no vehicle to get there. In addition, Noor finds it difficult to go out as a woman alone, reflecting the conservative traditions in her home village.
The family is now struggling; they didn’t get their most recent quota of supplies and the children are all out of school.
Reaching families in host communities
Families like Ms. Jahan’s and Mr. Afridi’s are in urgent need of aid, yet a recent survey of displaced families living in host communities – conducted by UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies – indicates that a significant proportion of displaced people have not registered for assistance. Many families consider the process too arduous; others mentioning lack of transportation, long queues, and long waiting times as obstacles to receiving assistance.
School attendance is lower for children living in host communities – families cite the inability to pay school fees as well as lack of books and uniforms as primary reasons they do not send their children to school. Access to health care was another concern, with private clinics being the most commonly available health facility.
Yet most humanitarian assistance is delivered at Jalozai camp; assisting unregistered families in host communities is a more complex task. The results of the survey will be used to guide the ongoing humanitarian response.
UNICEF needs an additional US$35.7 million to sustain and scale-up humanitarian assistance for displaced children and women living in Jalozai, Togh Serai and New Durrani camps, and those living in host communities. Assistance is also needed for families who are able to return to their home areas because the security situation has improved. The most urgent funding needs are for providing improved water and sanitation services and nutrition services.