UN refugee chief appeals for more aid to help uprooted Pakistanis

14 May 2009

The top United Nations refugee official today issued a call for a massive surge in international assistance to help the over 800,000 Pakistanis recently displaced by clashes between Government forces and militants in the country’s north-west.

“This is not a moment for small gestures,” High Commissioner António Guterres said during a visit to the Yar Hussein camp in the Swabi district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

He kicked off a three-day mission to Pakistan today to assess the emergency response of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which has been rushing aid to the region, to stem the ongoing displacement crisis.

Deploring the pace at which the displacement is occurring, Mr. Guterres emphasized that the time has come for the international community to repay Pakistan for its generosity in hosting millions of Afghan refugees over the years.

Since 2 May, over 835,000 people have been registered as displaced, with fewer than one-tenth of them sheltering in camps. This is on top of the more than 500,000 people registered as fleeing their homes after earlier fighting in the north-west since last August.

Most of the uprooted are staying with relatives or friends, resulting in social and economic hardships, the High Commissioner said. “The dimensions of the problem are far out of proportion to the available resources.”

While at the Yar Hussain camp, he spoke with refugee families, saw the registration of new arrivals and met with Pakistani aid workers.

He also visited a World Food Programme (WFP) distribution centre, where he watched relief workers hand out food and UNHCR non-food items.

Earlier today, Mr. Guterres met with Najmuddin Khan, Minister for States and Frontier Regions, and Frida Wazir of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees.

On Tuesday, UNHCR airlifted 120 tonnes of relief supplies – including 10,000 mosquito nets and 14,000 plastic sheets for emergency shelters – from its regional stockpile in Dubai.

Additionally, the agency has been working with Pakistani authorities and organizations to register and help the displaced.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working to support health services in camps as well as mobile outreach to cover those sheltering in host communities. Since 9 May, it has delivered 20 mini-emergency health kits – enough for 120,000 people for one month – to internally displaced persons (IDPs) at various sites in NWFP.

The agency has received over $500,000 from the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to meet the health needs of the half million people uprooted by violence and natural disasters in the Province between August 2008 and March 2009 before the current counter-insurgency operation started two weeks ago.

The CERF money will support projects targeting the prevention and control of communicable diseases, the strengthening of health systems, and the provision of clean water and hygienic conditions.


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News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

UN agency readies for health crisis in north-west Pakistan

The United Nations health agency said today it is bracing itself for a humanitarian health crisis in north-west Pakistan as fighting between government forces and militants threatens to uproot a further 800,000 people taking the total number of displaced to well over a million.