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Pakistan: quake survivors want to go home

Pakistan: quake survivors want to go home, UN refugee official says

As tens of thousands of people displaced by last October’s earthquake in Pakistan stream home from their temporary camps, a top official of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which is leading the relief effort, listened to the aspirations and concerns of survivors and pledged to continue supporting them.

“What UNHCR wants is what the quake survivors want for themselves. They want to go home to their villages,” said Wendy Chamberlin, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. “We are working with various agencies like IOM (International Organization for Migration) to facilitate transport and return.”

UNHCR has supported the Pakistani Government in running the temporary camps with 132 emergency staff, 55 mobile teams funded by the European Commission for Humanitarian Affairs (ECHO) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). The effort is assisting Pakistani authorities in 112 relief camps for some 73,000 quake survivors.

The Deputy High Commissioner later pledged that: “UNHCR will continue to assist in the transitional phase, however, the long-term response will fall to other agencies.”

More than 88,000 camp dwellers have gone back to rebuild their homes in the last month, UNHCR said. The agency launched a mass information campaign in the camps last month to ensure that details on conditions in areas of return and expected assistance for shelter reconstruction reach people so they can make an informed choice.

In the Thori Park camp, group of young women and widows told Ms. Chamberlain that their main concerns about going home were the availability of land, road rehabilitation, and shelter in their villages.

The refugee agency has emphasized that provision must be made for vulnerable people who cannot return now. Some have been orphaned, widowed or disabled; others have lost their land or come from towns like Balakot, which lies on major fault lines and has to be relocated.

The authorities in Muzaffarabad have set aside at least two camps – Thori Park and Mera Tanolia – for these residual groups. Another three camps have been designated as residual camps in North West Frontier Province. UNHCR is providing resources and training to the civilian authorities to help them manage and assist those who remain in these camps.

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