Protection for Jalozai refugee camp

Published: April 4, 2013
The writer is a freelance journalist, with an interest in conflict areas. She is also a fellow at LUMS

The writer is a freelance journalist, with an interest in conflict areas. She is also a fellow at LUMS

The recent blast at Jalozai — the largest internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in the country — shook life truly hard. For a place that caters to more than 60,000 IDPs, it’s perversely irresponsible of the authorities not to have adequate security for it. Security concerns were raised only after the bomb blast — which killed 17 (15 on site and two in the hospital) and injured more the 40 (out of which 30 had to be admitted to hospitals) IDPs. Had the authorities been vigilant, the blast was absolutely avoidable. It was the first one to occur since 2009, when most IDPs moved into the camp; however, the security threat was always there.

The first time I visited Jalozai, I was shocked to find no security checkpoint, no police personnel, no military installments and no checking at entry points. In fact, there was not even a clearly defined entry point. With tens of thousands of people all coming from different agencies, escaping war and militancy, this place had not just always been vulnerable but also an ideal place for militants to disguise and hide, which has happened in the past, when militants were arrested in 2011 and weapons retrieved at many points over the years. Still, the only security the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has provided over the years has been in the form of its own administrative staff, who also manage other administrative and logistical work in the camp and do not exclusively work to provide security. Imagine how outrageous it is to be 35 kilometres from Peshawar — the hotbed of violence and blasts — with an influx of people from terror-stricken agencies into a camp where there is no security procedure.

On my visit to Jalozai again, two days after the blast, I was expecting immediate security installments and better provision of food and supplies to the victimised IDPs — who, you must remember, did not leave their homes and jobs by choice, but were driven to this by the acts of the government. Instead, I met injured blast victims who were struggling to get approved as ‘eligible for medical treatment’ in the hospital because only the severely injured were facilitated by the authorities. Then I met more IDPs who complained about their food supply being suspended while things were put in order. One woman whose misery made me really angry was a mother of five who could not avail ration because her ID card had expired and she had been borrowing food from generous neighbours to feed her children, additionally causing strain in the limited food supply of her neighbours. That’s more people suffering while the authorities figure out how to fix and update their system.

The loss of lives and underlying injuries is not the only undue suffering the IDPs have faced after the blast. Many of them have been denied food and shelter, as a security measure by the PDMA and the international NGOs working here.

Apparently, the blast shook them so hard that the World Food Programme suspended the distribution of food and other supplies included in the ration and the UNHCR postponed repatriation of the new IDPs coming in from Tirah Valley — another major dilemma on the rise that is expected to increase the number of IDPs at Jalozai by 4,000 to 6,000. This speaks volumes about the utter lack of preparedness of NGOs and the PDMA and also the way they prioritise policies over provision.

The current security plan that the PDMA has chalked out is not good enough. Protection of these people still does not seem to be the PDMA’s priority as it is still trying to figure out how many weapon detectors it can afford. With militant attacks accelerating and more IDPs coming from Tirah, Jalozai is a vulnerable spot. However, this vast spread of land can easily be protected with barbed wire borders and immediate installment of security barriers. After all, any investment in security will prevent further unfortunate events that force the government to spend on hospital costs of the injured and the dead.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2013.

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