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IDPs living like 'cattle' in Pakistan camps

Feb 16, 2009

Life in Jalozai camps is tough and unsafe for thousands of internally displaced persons from Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies of Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. The conditions of those who chose not to suffer “the indignity of a camp” are not any better.

Peshawar, Pakistan: Jalozai camp, which until nine months ago accommodated Afghan refugees, is now home to thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Bajaur Agency, northwestern Pakistan, where government troops have been fighting militants.

Misery is perceptible everywhere in the 3,500-tent camp, about 35km southwest of Peshawar.

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Some 24,000 IDPs are there, according to Muhammad Ilyas, human resources officer at the Peshawar office of Islamic Relief (IR), a UK-based NGO working at the camp, which is run by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other NGOs.

“The fact is that tent life is very hard,” said Ilyas. The recent cold weather makes it still tougher.

“Life here is difficult. We cannot adjust to a situation where we live just like cattle, are given orders by people who run the camp and where we have no homes and no land,” said Muhammad Wasim, 35, a farmer from Bajaur.

But he said fighting had made his village so unsafe they had no choice but to flee. “We could hear gunfire close at hand. I have brought my three children and wife here but my parents refused to come. Besides, someone must stay back to take care of our livestock or they will be stolen,” he said.

Another IDP, Aziza Bibi, 65, said: “All of us have been sick with fever since we came here, especially my grandson who is six months old. We are very worried about him.”

The IDPs complained about lack of safety and facilities at the camp. “The facilities are very poor. There are no proper cooking arrangements and no security,” said Hussain Khan, another IDP from Bajaur.

IR said efforts were being made to improve conditions, and that its focus had been on site planning for the tent settlement and providing safe water to residents.

Fire

Recently, safety concerns rose after an incident at the camp in which a child was burnt to death and two women were injured after a fire broke out in a tent.

“Recently another NGO had given out gas cylinders… The fire was caused by a cylinder explosion,” IR’s Ilyas said, adding that the victims were then rushed “within minutes” to Khyber Teaching Hospital in an ambulance provided by IR.

According to camp residents, the fire started in one tent before spreading to another where women were cooking food. Adjacent tents also caught fire.

However, angered by the incident, the IDPs staged a protest and blocked the road leading to the camp. The information minister of the North West Frontier Province, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, ordered an inquiry and said in a statement: “The government is well aware of the problems of the people of Bajaur and Mohmand Agency residing in the camp and is helping, with the limited available resources, to minimise their suffering.”

Staying with relatives

Some IDPs who had opted not to stay at the camp faced similar problems. “Very little has been done for us by the government or anyone else. Other citizens, too, have remained indifferent to our plight,” said Hassan Ahmed, an IDP from Bajaur.

Like many others he chose to move in with relatives in Peshawar rather than “suffer the indignity of a camp”, saying: “We live in terrible conditions - nine or ten to a single room; many of the children now go to work rather than school to try and make ends meet.”

Ahmed wonders when he and his family will be able to return home, but fears it is unlikely this will happen soon “because things are still very grim up there and the fighting is fierce”.

Bajaur is a subdivision within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.

Source : IRIN
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