Operation in Kurram: Thousands flee on whatever they can find

With roads already blocked, people are seeking refuge from violence in the region.

Irin July 07, 2011
Operation in Kurram: Thousands flee on whatever they can find


The latest Pakistan army offensive against militants in Kurram Agency has sent thousands of people fleeing on trucks, vans, tractors and other vehicles, while aid agencies are trying to map out a response.

“The operation has been launched to clear the area of terrorists involved in kidnapping and killing of local people, suicide attacks and blocking the road that connects Lower Kurram with Upper Kurram,” Inter-Services Public Relations Director Major General Athar Abbas said on Tuesday.

Civilians were forced to flee conflict-hit areas along the tribal belt made up of seven agencies along the Pak-Afghan border after the operation began on July 3. “I am waiting for news of my parents, grandparents and four siblings,” Faheem Ali, who works as a pharmacist, told IRIN in Peshawar.

“They set out from our home in central Kurram on Monday and are trying to join me here in Peshawar,” he added, saying he had failed to establish contact with them for over 14 hours and could only hope they “get here safely given the heavy firing that is taking place”.

“There is likely to be a displacement of at least 4,000 families and possibly double that number due to this latest fighting,” said Arshad Khan, head of Disaster Management Authority (DMA) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). He added that already 1,000 families - around 7,000 individuals - had been displaced since the operation started.

Aid agencies said they were preparing to help the newly displaced.

“We are working closely with the DMA in Fata and government authorities there, as we are not on the ground in Kurram,” said UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan.

She said people displaced from Kurram were being accommodated at Durrani Camp, a former Afghan refugee camp, in Sadda town in Lower Kurram.

Following a request from the DMA, the UNHCR has so far provided 700 tents and other non-food items for those displaced in Kurram.

According to the DMA, 250 families have reached the camp, while others have moved in with relatives in various parts of Kurram or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The fresh displacements add to the 34,785 already displaced from Kurram, according to official statistics.

Situation ‘grim’

“The situation in Kurram is looking grim. We have conducted a meeting to determine how to help them,” Riaz Khan, a medical student who also works with a volunteer student group to help the displaced, told IRIN. He said a campaign to “collect funds and food item donations” would be launched.

Other NGOs cite lack of access to conflict-hit areas as a key problem, preventing them from helping people. This means that most welfare activities are being carried out, for now, by local authorities. “We have arranged food and non-food items for the displaced,” said Sahibzada Muhammad Anees, who heads the local administration in Kurram.

“There is real fear in Kurram, because the road linking the agency to Peshawar has been closed for many months due to fighting, it is not easy to leave. People feel trapped, and therefore even more scared,” Kareem Abassi, 37, told IRIN. Abassi left Kurram with his family of five a week ago, as rumours of a military operation spread.

“Thousands of others are preparing to do the same,” he added. “I am glad I am out with my children and wife.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2011.


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