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Thousands Displaced By Pakistani Fighting Get Aid

UN Refugee Agency Musters Aid For Thousands Displaced By Pakistani Fighting

New York, Oct 14 2008 10:10AM

The United Nations refugee agency is trying to provide urgent shelter and other aid for some 190,000 people who have been displaced from Pakistan’s Bajaur agency bordering Afghanistan since fighting started in mid-August.

The large majority are staying with host families on both sides of the border, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today, but as it cannot access most of these areas for security reasons, it is relying on government estimates of the numbers.

According to these, over 168,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have sought shelter in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) while over 20,000 Pakistanis and Afghans have fled into eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province.

“We cannot verify this figure as population movements are fluid and registration is ongoing in the 10 official IDP camps,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

Last Friday, UNHCR signed an agreement with the NWFP government to extend registration to IDPs living with host families. Once completed, this will give a clearer picture of the scale of displacement and the immediate needs.

As the lead agency for emergency shelter, protection and camp management, UNHCR is trying to improve conditions in camps by providing urgent shelter and relief materials, as well as technical support to the government camp managers.

“We are helping to develop the former Afghan refugee village of Katcha Gari in Peshawar into a proper IDP camp with basic standards and services,” Mr. Redmond said. “So far, we've provided 900 tents, 750 plastic sheets, over 2,200 blankets, nearly 1,500 jerry cans and 750 kitchen sets to the new arrivals at this camp. Other agenciῥs are establishing latrines, washrooms and water tankers."

Across the border in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, UNHCR and its partners have been assisting the 20,700 people who have fled the Bajaur conflict in the last two months. Over 60 per cent are Pakistanis and all are living with relatives and host families. UNHCR and other agencies have provided them with relief items, food packages and medical kits.

The agency has not seen a substantial rise in the number of Afghan returnees after a Pakistani announcement that all Afghans must vacate Bajaur Agency, where the last Afghan refugee villages were closed in 2005, by 11 October. “However, should there be any registered Afghans who subsequently moved to Bajaur, we are appealing to the Pakistani authorities to let them relocate to other areas in Pakistan or to repatriate voluntarily with UNHCR assistance," Mr. Redmond said.

ENDS

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