The United Nations refugee agency has helped 38,000 people displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas return to their homes over the past two months.
The latest phase of the voluntary return operation, organized by the Pakistani Government, wrapped up on Sunday, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), whose staff monitored the process to ensure that returns were voluntary and funded the transport of returnees.
Displacement from Pakistan’s tribal areas began in 2008 in the wake of a Government crackdown on insurgents. At the height of the displacement crisis in 2009, more than 21,000 families, or around 147,000 people, were registered in the Jalozai camp – the largest of the four camps in the tribal areas for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
At the same time, around 90 per cent of the displaced lived outside camps, with friends, relatives or in rented accommodation.
The 38,000 people that returned in the latest operation went back to homes in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, both of which are in the northern part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), bordering Afghanistan.
In addition to monitoring the process and funding the transport of returnees, UNHCR also set up warehouses in both areas that provided returning families with basic household supplies. Tents were given to those whose homes were damaged in the conflict for use as temporary shelters while repairs are carried out.
Other UN agencies are also providing help, with the World Food Programme (WFP) enrolling returnees in cash-for-work programmes, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) providing hygiene kits, and the World Health Organization (WHO) offering health care through a partner organization.
An estimated 5,000 families – or about 26,000 individuals – remain in Jalozai, most of them residents of areas still considered unsafe for returns.