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Providing safe spaces for children on front lines of insecurity in north-western Pakistan

© UNICEF Pakistan/2012/Zaidi
Children play cricket at a UNICEF-supported child protection centre at Jalozai camp, Pakistan.

By David Youngmeyer

NOWSHERA, Pakistan, 30 April 2012 – Seven-year-old Rizwana has seen things that no child should ever have to experience.

She is one of tens of thousands of children to flee the recent intensification of security operations in Khyber Agency, in north-western Pakistan’s tribal area, since January.

A steady stream of families – more than 200,000 people in the last four months alone – have been moving east to the relative safety of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa Province. They either go to the sprawling Jalozai camp, near the regional capital of Peshawar, or live in host communities in the region. The newly displaced join hundreds of thousands of others who had been displaced by earlier insecurity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas over the past four years. More than 542,000 people are currently displaced in these areas, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Escaping under cover of night

As recently as last month, Rizwana and her family were still living in her village in Khyber Agency. Her father ran the family farm and Rizwana and her five siblings were all in school. But then everything changed.

“I heard the noises of airplanes, shooting and shelling,” Rizwana said. “I didn’t like the fighting, and I felt afraid. Many houses in the village were destroyed or damaged. I cried when I saw dead bodies in the streets of my village.”

The family decided that they had to get out to somewhere safer. They left under cover of darkness with whatever little they could carry, walking for three hours in the night. They then found a vehicle to rent for the two-hour drive to Jalozai camp.

“I was happy to be away from the fighting,” Rizwana said.

The family now lives in a tent. They are among the nearly 60,000 people at the camp. Apart from shelter, the camp provides basic necessities, with UNICEF being a major supporter of water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as materials such as buckets, jerry cans and family hygiene kits. UNICEF also supports maternal and child health services, including immunizations and malnutrition screenings and treatment.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2012/Zaidi
Rizwana, 7, is one of tens of thousands of children and their families who have fled the recent intensification of security operations in Khyber Agency, in north-western Pakistan’s tribal area.

Finding safety, recovery amid chaos

Rizwana attends a UNICEF-supported school in the mornings, while afternoons are spent at a Protective Learning and Community Emergency Services (PLaCES) centre. Four of her siblings also attend the centre. UNICEF supports a variety of camp schools and PLaCES centres reaching thousands of children and women.

Staff at the PLaCES centre say that Rizwana was withdrawn and in a state of shock when she first arrived at the camp. She made rapid progress, however, as she became settled in her new surroundings and got back into the routine of attending school. She also received counselling from a PLaCES psychologist, and engaged in activities like psychosocial games, drawing and simply relaxing with other children in a safe environment.

In spite of the recent violence, Rizwana smiles as she describes the things she likes to do at the PLaCES centre.

“I like going to school and coming here,” she said, indicating the PLaCES centre, “but I miss my home and my friends and neighbours.” 

The influx of people has placed a severe strain on existing capacity to meet children’s and women’s immediate needs. UNICEF urgently needs funds to both sustain and scale up humanitarian assistance for vulnerable children and women at Jalozai, Togh Serai and New Durrani camps, and for those living in host communities. UNICEF requires US$30.9 million to fund its emergency activities on behalf of the displaced.   



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