Pakistan: Three months after clashes began, Oxfam International Emphasizes Need for Voluntary, Safe Return of Displaced People

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jen Corlew on +92 300 856 5350 / +44 (0) 787 925 5705 or jcorlew@oxfam.org.uk.

Pakistan: Three months after clashes began, Oxfam International Emphasizes Need for Voluntary, Safe Return of Displaced People

Focus group findings show displaced women fear return to Upper Swat districtFocus group findings show displaced women fear return to Upper Swat district

LONDON - Three months after the
clashes in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) began, aid
agency Oxfam International emphasized the right of Internally Displaced
People (IDPs) to return voluntarily and the need to establish
sustainable security in their home villages. Oxfam International
praised the Government for agreeing to uphold international standards
on the return of IDPs, but said a clear information campaign is needed
to help displaced people make informed decisions about returning. Now
in the third week of the Government’s phased plan for returns, there
are an estimated 1.5 million displaced people yet to be repatriated who
need reassurance that their safety will be respected and humanitarian
assistance will continue.

After speaking to nearly 100 IDP women in focus group discussions
held in camps and host communities over the last two weeks, Oxfam
International found that despite a strong desire to return home, many
still fear for the safety of their families. The displaced women living
in Swabi and Mardan districts said that relatives in Swat district
contacted them by mobile phones to say that homes and livelihoods have
been destroyed and sporadic fighting is continuing.  Others spoke of
confusion on the returns process and its implications, with only
limited information provided at short notice. “We hear that we should
return to Swat. But there are no options for us except to go and sit on
our destroyed house,” said Zemit, 52, after she learned that her family
home was bombed last week.

Oxfam Country Director in Pakistan Neva Khan said, “After the
largest internal displacement crisis in Pakistan’s history, everyone
wants to see a return to normalcy including a secure and dignified
return for all displaced people. We are encouraged that the Government
has agreed to international guidelines but stress that the information
campaign is also vital to the repatriation process.”

The voluntary, safe, informed and dignified return of the IDPs is a
paramount consideration for Oxfam International which, along with other
members of the humanitarian community, is working with the government
to help meet the needs of displaced people and particularly vulnerable
women. Oxfam International is providing water, cash, cooking materials,
latrines and hygiene kits for up to 360,000 men, women and children
affected by fighting.

Adhering to the three-phase plan of return set up by the government,
buses and security vehicles have been taking families back to the NWFP
since 13 July, first from displacement and spontaneous camps followed
by those staying with host families. As the IDPs return to their
villages, Oxfam International will shift its focus with local partners
to help provide shelter in devastated areas. In particular, assisting
people who have lost their crops, livestock, shops and other
livelihoods.

Women's stories

Between 15th and 25th July, Oxfam International staff spoke to
nearly 100 IDP women in focus groups discussions in Yar Hussain camp in
Swabi district and in three host communities in Mardan district. The
displaced women came from Upper Swat villages including Aliadab, Khalam
and Khabal. Their stories include:

Zwahara (70) from Upper Swat

“I fear my husband and son are dead. I have no income and five
daughters so I must get them married quickly.” When Zwahara and her
five daughters were given just 30 minutes notice to vacate their
village, she had to leave her paralyzed son behind with his father.

Taken in by a distant relative living in Swabi district, her family
and 20 others of the extended family are sharing one toilet and water
tap. The women are sleeping on the ground in the courtyard and
desperately want to be allowed into one of the official camps for
displaced families, where they believe conditions will be better.

Because Zwahara has no male family member with her and no official
ID card, the family have been turned away from the camps. Every member
of the family suffers from diarrhea and skin infections due to the heat
and poor hygiene. Zwahara has learned from former neighbors that her
house has been destroyed. No one has seen her husband or son for
several weeks. The family do not plan to return to Swat.

Rahmatun (22) from Upper Swat

Rahmatun’s husband returned to their village several weeks ago. He
told her that there is shooting in their village and the curfew makes
it too dangerous for him to go out to buy food. He plans to leave their
village and travel south to join her in Mardan if they can find a place
to live.

Rahmatun said, “The militants will behead us if we peek our heads
outside of the door – we cannot send our girl children to school or
anywhere with this being the case. They warned communities that if they
fled during the fighting that would mean that they had sided with the
Government.” Rahmatun and her three small children were staying in Yar
Husseim displacement camp in Swabi district.

Sahib (80) from near Mingora in Swat district

Eighty-year-old Sahib, her daughter and granddaughter walked for two
days and two nights to escape the fighting in Swat. For the last three
months they have been living in the empty home of a wealthy family in
Swabi district, the relatives of a family friend in their home village.

All the family suffer from diarrhoea and the skin rash scabies
because of the intense heat and lack of mobility from living in purdah.
Sahib said: “I don’t know what will happen to us if we go back. I want
to stay here – there are too many problems in Swat.”

Zemit (50) from Upper Swat

“We hear that everyone should return to Swat. But there are no
options for us except to go and sit on our destroyed house,” said
Zemit, 52, after she learned that her family home was destroyed by
bombing last week.

Living with 90 family members in a temporary home, Zemit says that
she misses baking bread for her family at home and desperately wishes
to return. But family members who remained in Swat tell her not to
return because fresh hostilities coupled with a volatile curfew order
makes it dangerous for them to get food and other necessities.

A local administrator in Marden district invited Zemit and her large
family to stay in his guesthouse, where they’ve lived for nearly three
months and relied on the generosity of neighbors.

Notes to editors

1.
Between 15th and 25th July, Oxfam International staff spoke to nearly
100 IDP women in focus groups discussions in Yar Hussain camp in Swabi
district and in three host communities in Mardan district. The
displaced women came from Upper Swat villages including Aliadab, Khalam
and Khabal.

2. The Government’s national response plan outlined in May sketches
a positive picture in many respects, with progressive references to
safe, voluntary returns, community ownership, transparency and
accountability, as well as the distinct needs of women and other
vulnerable groups. This requires sustained support and commitment to be
turned into a detailed reality. Recovery and rehabilitation plans must
involve the active participation of affected. On 27 July 2009, the
Government estimated that 700,000 people had returned to NWFP.

3. The Pakistani army’s operations against militants in NWFP
beginning in late April triggered an exodus of over two million women,
men and children especially after 2 May. The flight of civilians from
the province’s Malakand Division (mainly the districts of Swat, Dir,
Malakand and Buner) represents the biggest conflict-induced
displacement in the country’s 62-year history.

4. Oxfam International is a relief agency working in more than 100
countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Oxfam
International has funded relief and development work in Pakistan since
1973 and two affiliates, Oxfam Great Britain and Oxfam Novib, are
working in the country.

 

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Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 like-minded organizations working together and with partners and allies around the world to bring about lasting change. Oxfam works directly with communities and that seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

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