It is not the first time that Wasim Khan and his family of five from Pakistan’s Khyber Agency near the border with Afghanistan have been displaced.
In 2010 they had to flee their village [Meri Khel] because of fierce fighting between government troops and militants as well as between rival militant groups battling each other for control of the strategically significant area.
“At that time we stayed away from home for five months. This time who knows how long it will be,” Khan told IRIN.
Khan is back in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Paktoonkhwa Province. He has registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) so he can collect food and other aid to which internally displaced persons (IDPs) are entitled, visited two potential employers in search of work as a van driver, and enrolled his two older children at the same private school they attended last time they were displaced.
A 30 March press release by UNHCR said that since January this year, more than 100,000 people have been displaced, mainly from the Khyber Agency, as a result of a “recent increase in the intensity of fighting”.
The IDPs say they have been forced to flee either due to the proximity of fighting or because of warnings to evacuate by the authorities.
According to UNHCR, many people are arriving in Jalozai Camp near Peshawar, which houses 62, 818 people and is now the largest IDP camp in the country. Before 17 March it had 47,134 IDPs.
“On 29 March we registered around 13,000 people, the highest number of IDPs registered in one day since the start of the new influx. Most of the people moving out of Khyber Agency are opting to live with friends and relatives. To ensure a smooth registration process we have, along with the government, set up two additional registration desks for off-camp IDPs,” UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan told IRIN.
Photo: Tim Irwin/IRIN
|A UNHCR team talks with new arrivals at Pakistan’s Jalozai IDP camp|
There have been several waves of displacement from northern parts of Pakistan since 2004. The biggest exodus, according to UNHCR, was in 2009 when over two million were displaced.
“This is the third time I am leaving my home near Bara [town in the Khyber Agency] Gul Jan, 50, told IRIN. He said his farm, where he grew vegetables and kept goats, had been “ruined” because of neglect, and the small shop he ran “is closed right now”. This leaves him with no income.
The disruption of his children’s education also worries him. “I have not sent my three sons or my daughter to school since we came to Peshawar early in March. I really cannot find money to send them to a private school and the government-run schools are not worth going to. We are very worried that they are missing out on their education,” he said.
Those with no close relatives find it difficult to live with people they barely know.
“The house of my school-fellow from Khyber, with whom we are living, is small. I feel we are a burden on them since there are seven members in my extended family, and there is no privacy for the women,” said Rahbar Khan, 25. However, he believes life in a camp like Jalozai would be “even less dignified” with many strangers living close by.
Other IDPs worry about family members still in Khyber. They also wonder when they will be able to return. But, as Gul Jan said, “people continue to run away, there is intense fighting and there is just no way of saying when we will return to our villages or when our lives will be back to normal again.”