Separated IDP families - the agony of not knowing

“My wife and I clung onto the back of a truck to get out. At one point our three-year-old son nearly slipped to the ground because we were also trying to manage two other small children and a few small parcels of food and clothing. We would have had no way of picking him up if he had slipped from our arms.”

This is the grim tale of a near separation related to IRIN by Nauroz Khan, 30, who brought his family down to Mardan in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) from their village near Mingora, Swat Valley’s principal town.

In the chaos of fleeing fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban militants in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), many family members have become separated, and the government has now set up a special cell under the Interior Ministry to reunite parents with lost children.

Teenager Anza Bibi is being cared for in the home of an elderly couple in Mardan to which many internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled. The girl, who appears to have a mental disorder, is confused and keeps calling for her mother.

“She seems to have been separated from her family during the chaos as they fled Mingora. The people who brought her here say they found her sitting alone by the roadside and pulled her onto a van,” said Kareema Bibi, 60, who has taken the girl into her home.

''My elderly parents refused to leave home and I worry about them all the time.''


Firdaus Gul, at Jalala IDP camp, said: “Our 13-year-old son was accidentally left at home sleeping when we fled Kabal in Swat. My wife was panic-stricken when we found our family was not complete. Fortunately some neighbours brought him down with them two days later, but for 48 hours we were in a state of terrible suspense as we were not sure if he was safe.”

IDPs like Gul who have experienced even temporary separation, say the agony of not knowing what has happened is much worse than the heat, living conditions or anything else.

“My elderly parents refused to leave home and I worry about them all the time. We have not been able to contact them for days… and we wonder if they have any food or if the house is safe,” said Sameera Khalil, 30, who was planning to move to rented accommodation in Peshawar with her family and needed to tell her parents.

Habib Malik of the UK-based Islamic Relief NGO, describing the situation in one IDP camp, said: “A 10-year-old boy I met was in the camp on his own. He had been separated from his family in the chaos after everyone had fled from his village.”

Faisel Ali, a medical student who has been visiting the Jalala camp to assist the sick and injured, told IRIN: “It seems to have been mainly children and old people who became separated from their families, often when fighting broke out unexpectedly.”

Photo: Tariq Saeed/IRIN
NWFP provincial government says 2.5 million people have fled their homes

Two new camps

According to the NWFP provincial government, 2.5 million people have now fled their homes and the exodus is continuing.

Thousands of people took advantage of the lifting of a curfew on 30-31 May to flee their villages and towns in Swat Valley to reach safer areas in Mardan, Swabi and Charsadda districts - all in NWFP. This was the first opportunity for a while for people trapped in these areas to escape to safer zones, according to the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR’s) displacement update

Thousands have also fled their homes in the Mingora and Char Bagh areas of Swat District in the past few days, but it is difficult to confirm the numbers. Meanwhile, UNHCR, its partners and the NWFP authorities have established two new camps - Sugar Mill camp in Charsadda District and another one (not named in the UNHCR update) in Peshawar District, the same source said.

Sugar Mill took in 400 families, or 2,400 individuals on 1 June and more people are expected to arrive on 2 June. Many of the families said they were moved out of Swat in government trucks. Others said they had walked some of the way before catching buses to get to safer areas, where they were renting rooms or staying with relatives or in schools, UNHCR said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement that it and the Pakistan Red Crescent Society would “expand activities aimed at enabling separated families to re-establish contact”.