Displaced Pakistanis, driven from their homes by fighting between Government forces and militants in north-west of the country, today expressed their desire to return home as soon as possible to the top United Nations relief official.
On the second day of his four-day visit to the South Asian nation, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, visited Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
In Peshawar, he met with Owais Ahmed Ghani, the provincial governor, as well as top officials from NWFP, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and UN agencies.
Mr. Holmes expressed his appreciation to the Government, but also voiced concerns the difficulties faced by some people in registering and about preparations for the monsoon season, which is set to begin in a few weeks. Authorities, in turn, said they are worried about the resumption of education when the school year begins on 1 September, given that those uprooted by fighting are sheltering in nearly 4,000 schools.
Mr. Holmes and the Government agreed that returns should begin as soon as possible, provided they are voluntary and sustainable.
In Mardan and Swabi, the UN official met with internally displaced persons (IDPs).
“Many of them told me they would leave this very afternoon – if conditions were right,” he said. “But they need to be sure that they will be safe when they go back, that basic services are there, and most importantly that they will not have to leave their homes again.”
The vast majority of the 2 million people displaced by the crisis are living in spontaneous settlements, rented accommodations or with host families.
Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, he visited a spontaneous camp, currently home to 3,000 uprooted people who live in a very basic, crowded school complex.
In Jamal Garhi, he visited a village where the 1,500-strong population has doubled since the crisis, with one family of seven taking in 95 distant relatives from Swat.
He also stopped at Sang-e-Marmar hub, where hundreds of IDPs are receiving rations and supplies from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Mr. Holmes wrapped up his day by visiting the Yar Hussain camp, where nearly 30,000 displaced people mostly from Buner district – where he will be going tomorrow – are taking shelter.
“We still need to do more to help people both now and in the coming months,” he said, stressing that host families and communities need particular help. “Those who will remain displaced will need help for some time, and those who go back will need help for six months to make sure they can stand on their own feet again.”
UNHCR said yesterday that preparations continue in the displacement camps, with the monsoon season beginning shortly.
The agency’s spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva that, depending on the intensity of the monsoon, some families may have to be relocated to other areas less prone to flooding.