Number of uprooted in north-west Pakistan tops 1 million – UN refugee agency

18 May 2009

The top United Nations refugee official has wrapped up a visit to Pakistan, where he appealed for urgent international assistance for people displaced by clashes between Government forces and militants – whose numbers topped 1 million over the weekend – in the South Asian nation’s north-west.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres characterized the displacement crisis as one of the most dramatic in recent times, noting that aid workers are struggling to reach out to the growing number of displaced people.

“It’s like trying to catch something that’s moving ahead of us because the number of people on the move every day is so big and the response is never enough,” he told reporters before ending his three-day visit to the region.

“Leaving this population without the support they need – with such massive numbers – could constitute an enormous destabilizing factor,” Mr. Guterres cautioned.

Most of the 1.17 million people who have escaped the violence are staying with relatives or friends, placing tremendous strain on the country, while over 130,000 others are seeking refuge in UNHCR-supported camps.

The over 1 million recently displaced join a further 555,000 Pakistanis uprooted by fighting since last August.

During his visit to Pakistan, Mr. Guterres was told by internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps that they are anxious to return to their homes.

“Each person has suffered a lot, having to abandon their community, sometimes their families, houses and properties, coming with nothing, and sometimes having to witness family or friends die,” he said. “The amount of suffering needs to be recognized by the international community.”

Both the UN and the Pakistani Government will issue appeals for funding, the High Commissioner said, estimating the funds needed to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Calling for a massive response from donor nations, he stressed that “it’s not only a matter of generosity, it’s a matter of enlightened self-interest.”

Last week, UNHCR airlifted 120 tons of relief supplies – including mosquito nets, plastic sheets and portable warehouses – to the area.


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