Thursday, May 7, 2009

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pakistan

Internally displaced children fleeing from military operations against Taliban militants in Buner, sit on the ground at a makeshift camp in Swabi on May 7, 2009. Pakistani attack helicopters and war planes pounded suspected Taliban hideouts as thousands of people fled the deadliest fighting to erupt in the northwest district of Swat in months. –AFP Photo/Tariq Mahmood [Courtesy: Daily Dawn]

More than 400,000 people remained displaced at the end of 2008 by ongoing conflicts in three regions of Pakistan. New displacements had continued through the year, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to escape the fighting, though in some cases only for short periods. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) the operations of the government’s armed forces in search of Taleban and Al-Qaeda members have met since 2002 with violent resistance; the UN in September 2008 estimated that 200,000 IDPs in FATA were beyond the reach of UN agencies.

Fighting between the government and militant groups in FATA in summer 2008 led to approximately 20 per cent of the total population (an estimated 850,000 people) to flee from Bajaur Agency to the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). A number of people displaced within Bajaur returned to their homes following the announcement of a ceasefire at the end of August 2008, but thousands remained displaced. In NWFP, armed conflict between government troops and pro-Taleban militants has also led to displacement since 2007. In NWFP’s Swat district an estimated 50 per cent of the total 1.8 million population remained severely affected by the conflict and a large number of individuals were displaced within the district. By late 2008, according to UN estimates, over 232,000 persons displaced by the conflicts in FATA and NWFP had been registered in nine districts of NWFP, including over 50,000 people living in 12 camps established in the safer districts of NWFP, and over 178,000 individuals living outside the camps. The actual IDP figures were estimated to be higher due to registration of displaced people outside camps having taken place in only 70 per cent of the affected districts. The displaced families outside camps were relying on the hospitality of friends, families and tribal networks while those in camps were receiving assistance from international and national aid agencies.

Many displaced families in NWFP were separated, as some members (mostly women and children) had fled to safe areas, while others (mainly men) had stayed behind to safeguard homes and livestock. This created additional risks for the many women and children displaced, with concerns of increased sexual violence and exploitation reported. The capacity of cities to absorb these people has been increasingly exhausted, leading to ever greater competition for scarce reources and livelihood opportunities. In this context displaced girls, women, boys and people with disabilities have had limited access to support. n Balochistan, displacement has been caused since 2005 by the government’s military response to a long-running, low level insurgency by tribal militants seeking to wrest political power and control of the region’s natural resources from the Punjabi-dominated authorities. Between 50,000 and 60,000 people were estimated to be displaced as of April 2008. They were living without clean drinking water or health care, and displaced children were believed to be facing severe acute malnutrition; dozens of children had died due to malnutrition and diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis, while IDP women had died in childbirth.

Displaced and non-displaced civilians faced immediate risks to their physical security when they were caught in the crossfire between the army and insurgent groups. These problems were compounded in the immediate aftermath of their displacement by the lack of access of aid agencies to many areas. The government of Pakistan has prevented aid from reaching those displaced by the conflict in Balochistan, while attacks by insurgent groups on humanitarian workers in many areas have made it very difficult for them to access IDPs.

For IDPs in Pakistan to achieve durable solutions to their situation, the armed conflicts in NWFP and FATA would have to come to an end, and a political settlement prevail in Balochistan. In the meantime, although human rights groups have publicised the actions of armed forces that have led to the displacement of civilians, the government’s response to their plight has been limited. There are no national policies or dedicated government offices in place, although ministries with health or children portfolios have responded to displacement in some areas.

In 2008, the government did allow UN and international agencies to become involved in responding to the needs of those displaced in FATA and NWFP; however further improvement would depend on a policy enabling nationwide access. The UN activated the cluster approach in response, but most international agencies have limited access to FATA and NWFP due to the ongoing insurgency, or in Balochistan due to government restrictions.

Pakistan: Displacement ongoing in a number of regions

Source: 2008 Human Rights Report: Pakistan Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor US Department of State - Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

During the year, the number of IDPs fluctuated due to military action and sectarian violence in the NWFP and the FATA and floods in NWFP and Punjab. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that military operations in Bajaur alone generated approximately 190,000 IDPs and an estimated 90,000 in Swat by September. At year's end, approximately 200,000 IDPs remained displaced from FATA and NWFP. Many IDPs from Swat and Bajaur were taken in by friends and relatives, which complicated the counting efforts. Flooding in Punjab and NWFP and an earthquake in Balochistan displaced an additional 300,000 persons. In the districts surrounding Bajaur, the government, supported by UNHCR and other organizations, provided temporary food and shelter for the IDPs in 11 camps and worked with international organizations and NGOs to supplement government-provided assistance. IDPs complained of the poor hygiene in the camps.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal Conflicts

During the year, security deteriorated throughout the country, as foreign al-Qaida, Afghan Taliban, TTP, and local extremist groups attacked civilians and security forces. The government responded by launching multiple military operations using aerial bombardment and ground troops, most notably in Swat in NWFP and Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in FATA. Independent observers estimated that there were approximately 1,150 civilian deaths due to military actions in NWFP and FATA. There were over 200 terrorist attacks, including more than 65 suicide bombings, which killed an estimated 970 civilians and security personnel. Due to poor security, intimidation by security forces and militants, and the control that the government and security forces exercised over access by non-residents to FATA, human rights organizations and journalists found it difficult to report on abuses in military theaters. Multiple sources reported that imprecise use of ground artillery and aerial bombardment by security forces resulted in extensive civilian casualties and collateral damage, both in FATA and in Swat. Militants imposed fines and carried out public beheadings, public displays of dead bodies, stonings, and lashings.

Approximately 700 persons were killed in Sunni-Shia sectarian violence in Kurram Agency of FATA, mostly between August and the conclusion of a peace accord on October 16, according to press reports. The HRCP noted that the bodies of some of those killed were dismembered and left by the road and that ambulances were targeted in the attack. A low level insurgency also continued in Balochistan. According to NGOs and media reports, at least 800 militants, approximately 125 civilians, and 91 members of the security forces died as a result of the ongoing insurgency between the beginning of the year and late November. According to the AHRC, more than 100 individuals were killed in July and August alone and more than 20,000 were displaced. The last government-released official figures recorded the total number of deaths at 158 in 2006.

Source: 2008 Human Rights Report: Pakistan Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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