(UNHCR) – An estimated 84,000 people have been displaced in Pakistan’s Kurram agency as the military expands anti-insurgent operations in the country’s north-west. The UN refugee agency is stepping up aid efforts following a UN assessment mission last weekend.
The military offensive started in late June in central Kurram agency, one of seven agencies in Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering eastern Afghanistan. Local authorities say the conflict may have caused 12,000 families – some 84,000 people – to flee their homes in eight villages across an area of 80-square-kilometres in central Kurram.
Over the past two weeks, nearly 4,000 people have sought refuge in a new camp in the Durrani area in Sadda town of Lower Kurram. Known as New Durrani camp, it was set up by the local Disaster Management Authority about 30 km from the conflict zone. Some of the camp residents told the UN mission they wanted to stay close to home.
Local officials have registered another 8,000 displaced families staying with urban communities. An additional 200 families are sheltering in a school in Sadda town. Some of those staying with host families are likely to move to the camp soon.
“While the local authorities have moved quickly to provide tents, cooked food and drinking water in the camp, there is an urgent need to improve infrastructure with proper layout of tents, construction of latrines, washrooms and kitchens, and to conduct a verifiable electronic registration process,” said Mengesha Kebede, UNHCR’s Pakistan Representative. “That’s why we are urgently deploying expert staff to help authorities manage the situation.”
UNHCR is sending site planners and camp managers to New Durrani camp. The agency will also fund and provide technical support for a computer-based registration process for displaced people staying in and outside of the camp.
UNHCR had earlier provided 700 tents, 200 family kits of emergency supplies, and a portable warehouse. Its staff will continue to distribute tents and other relief supplies to camp dwellers. They will also work with local authorities and non-governmental organizations to pitch tents, provide hot meals, build kitchens, and distribute firewood.
This is not the first time people have been forced to flee Kurram agency, which has seen several years of conflict fuelled by long-standing sectarian tensions and an influx of militants from neighbouring areas. In 2010, some 130,000 people fled Lower Kurram and took refuge in the districts of Peshawar, Kohat and Hangu in neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkwa province. Most are still unable to return due to simmering tensions in their home areas.
In the past three years, successive waves of conflict between government forces and militants in north-western Pakistan have displaced more than 4 million people. The vast majority has since returned home, but some 400,000 people from South Waziristan, Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur tribal areas remain displaced. Around 57,000 of them still live in four camps, but most live among host communities in Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat, Peshawar, Tank and Hangu areas of Khyber Pakhtunkwa province.
By Ariane Rummery and Duniya Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan