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Ongoing conflict triggers massive displacement of families in north-west Pakistan

© UNICEF/Pak2009/Ramoneda
Children from a displaced family warm themselves beside a fire at a camp in Islamabad, Pakistan.

JALALA CAMP, Pakistan, 22 May 2009 – Since the end of April, a new army offensive against militants in north-west Pakistan has caused the displacement of more than 1.5 million people. They’ve joined the 555,000 people already displaced since October of last year and still unable to go home.

It’s the largest population displacement Pakistan has seen since the country was created in 1947.

Each day, hundreds of families arrive at hot, dusty camps like Jalala after fleeing the fertile valleys of Swat, Lower Dir and Buner Districts. More than half of those displaced are children, and all of them urgently need humanitarian assistance. Jalala camp, which opened less than three weeks ago, now hosts more than 11,000 people.

Caught in the crossfire

For Ahmad Hilal, a father of three, this is a particularly difficult time. As the only adult male in his entire extended family, the 28-year-old day labourer is responsible for not only his own children but 10 nephews and nieces, as well as his grandmother.

The family fled to Jalala camp after getting caught in the crossfire between the army and militants

“Some mortar shells fell in front of our house, and we left to save our lives,” said Mr. Hilal. “Here [in the camp] we do not have any relatives, nor do we have a house to live in. What is our sin? What wrong have these children done?

“Whoever is responsible for this,” he added, “we appeal and request them to forgive us in Allah’s name and let us go back to our land.”

© UNICEF/Pak2009/Ramoneda
A boy carries food for his family in Swabi camp for displaced people in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

Relief and loss

UNICEF Pakistan Communication Officer Antonia Paradela noted that displaced families face conflicting emotions.

“At the beginning, there is a big sense of relief that they’re in a safe place,” she said. “At the same time, there is a big sense of loss, particularly among the parents. They lost their home. They left everything behind. They could barely escape with the clothes that they were wearing. They don’t know what’s going to happen now.”

To address this emergency’s impact on children and women, UNICEF and its partners are working as part of a coordinated UN response to ensure that displaced children have access to water and sanitation, immunization and education, as well as protection from abuse or exploitation. 

Education brings normalcy

Over 180 schools in the Swat Valley have been destroyed in the past month. To restore education to displaced children’s lives, UNICEF is assisting camp primary schools and providing school supplies for thousands of boys and girls.

“It’s very important for UNICEF to make sure that schoolchildren get a bit of normalcy but that they also can continue their education and not lose the academic year,” said Ms. Paradela.

Child-friendly spaces set up in the new camps also offer safe environments where children can play and receive psychosocial support. Child-protection teams monitor unaccompanied and orphaned children, and make sure that households headed by women have access to services and supplies.

UNICEF is also providing safe water, latrines and hygiene kits for children and families displaced by the fighting in north-west Pakistan.



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