A large number of people displaced by the conflict between militants and security forces in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the tribal areas are staying outside the camps set up to house them. Many among them are in urgent need of shelter and health and education assistance, according to aid workers.
UN refugee agency (UNHCR) states that over 208,000 individuals have registered at the Jalozai Camp, of whom a majority have moved out of Khyber Agency since January. But that number is only a portion of the population estimated to be displaced, says a report by IRIN, the UN information unit.
“Only 15 percent of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) actually live at the camp,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, a public relations officer for UNHCR. “Most opt to move in with relatives or friends.”
According to an inter-agency assessment report, the IDPs living outside the camp are experiencing serious food shortages. The study of 2,157 families in 45 communities displaced from K-P since January found that 7.3 per cent of IDP communities did not have any food stocks. Where food is available, 56 per cent of communities stated that they possess food stocks for only one to three days, the study noted.
The report also states that 40 per cent of assessed IDPs had received no food assistance, while a significant number were not collecting food rations they were entitled to from Jalozai. A lack of clarity over distribution times and the cost of transportation to the camp were contributory factors.
Health, sanitation and child welfare issues for IDPs outside the camp are also a problem. “Alarmingly, 82.2 per cent women respondents reported a decrease in frequency of breastfeeding after displacement,” the report said.
Humanitarian workers said some families preferred to stay outside camps for cultural reasons, associated mainly with privacy and security for women, but they faced problems and struggled to gain the support they need.
“We are running short of food for ourselves and my three children. My husband has gone back to our village to check on our house and lands, and my elderly mother-in-law and I cannot make it to the [Jalozai] camp on our own to collect rations,” said Azra Bibi, who is living in a rented house on the outskirts of Peshawar.
Bibi rarely goes out of her house on her own, has never used public transport, cannot read or write, and says, “Getting to Jalozai would cost money. We are already spending a lot on rent.”
Displacement in K-P reached a peak in 2009 following increased fighting in the area and has continued since, with the most recent occurring in Bara tehsil, the administrative unit in Khyber Agency on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“We were somewhat unaware that so many people would not want to move into camps, but today we understand this is the pattern,” said K-P Provincial Disaster Management Authority Spokesperson Adnan Khan.
Meanwhile, the IDPs who have moved in with relatives have not been registered.
“We are understaffed, some IDPs do not wish to reveal their identity – especially where enmity exists with other groups from the same area – and some families move back and forth between Khyber and Peshawar. This makes registration harder to organise,” said an official who asked not to be named.
“It is hard to suckle my four-month-old son while living in a house with some twelve other people. Our host is a distant cousin, and I find it hard to find the privacy to feed, since there are so many people always coming in and out of the room we use,” said Hameeda Bibi, 25.
Salim Jan, 50, who reached Peshawar a week ago from the town of Bara, said, “I know we may receive more help if we lived at Jalozai, but I have teenage daughters, and cannot expose them to a situation where they must live with strangers next door.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.