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Reaching out to families torn apart by fighting in Pakistan

© UNICEF Pakistan/2009/Ramoneda
Hanifa (right) sits with three of her daughters in a tent in Jalouzai camp in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Her husband was killed in fighting and her two oldest children are unaccounted for.

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

NOWSHERA, Pakistan, 5 June 2009 – Three weeks ago, Hanifa and her four children fled their home in Mingora, in the Swat valley in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, where fighting has intensified heavily over the past month.

Hanifa’s eyes filled with tears when she talked about Gul Shah, 17, and Zeenat, 15, whom she hasn’t seen since they left to visit family in another village.

“I am very worried about my children and desperately want to go back to Swat and find them, but the younger children do not let me go,” she says. “They are afraid that if I go I will be killed like their father.”

Hanifa and her children fled after her husband, Bahadur Khan, was killed in crossfire.

“We didn’t even have time to give my husband a proper burial, and we had to leave his body with the men in our neighbourhood, because it was too dangerous for women and children to stay,” she said.

Walking out of the war zone

Hanifa and the children walked for days over extremely difficult mountain terrain to escape. The trip left Palwasha, age five, with blistered feet.

“I was exhausted and wanted to sit down but my mother kept on walking and forced us to walk,” she said.

“It was too dangerous to stop. There was shelling and bullets were flying over our heads, and I desperately wanted to get my children to a safer place,” explained Hanifa. 

Despite the deep sorrow of losing her husband and the separation from her eldest children, Hanifa is grateful for the shelter and basic provisions they have received in Jalozai camp. The largest camp in the area, Jalozai is home to almost 90,000 people. Almost 50,000 have arrived within the last three weeks. Only a small minority of those displaced by the fighting live in the camps – the rest are staying with friends, family or have found other forms of shelter. The majority of those in the camps are women and children – many of the men have stayed in their homes to protect their property.

To accommodate the unrelenting stream of refugees, Jalozai camp has been repeatedly expanded and a number of new camps have been established. With insufficient resources and very little time, the government, UNICEF and its partners are working hard to respond to what has become the largest and fastest displacement of people in recent history.

Reaching the most vulnerable

As Hanifa tells her story, Gullmina, a female Child Protection Monitor, arrives and inquires about the family’s health and any problems they have had in accessing the basic services being provided in the camp.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2009/Ramoneda
A woman sits outside her tent in Jalozai camp in North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan. The largest camp in the area, Jalozai is home to almost 90,000 people and almost 50,000 have arrived within the last three weeks.

Gullmina works for the Pakistan Village Development Programme, a local NGO that, with UNICEF’s support, is working to ensure that female-headed families like Hanifa’s are identified, registered and provided with basic services.

“Our organisation is also trying to locate her older children and we are hopeful that we will find them soon,” Gullmina said.

Partnerships for children

With UNICEF’s support, six child-friendly spaces have already been established in the camps.

These spaces provide recreational facilities and support for children, many of whom are severely traumatized. Registration drives by Child Protection Monitors are taking place to identify families and children that are in particular need. These include female-headed families like Hanifa’s, as well as children who have been orphaned or separated from their families.



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