By Jos de Voogd, Caritas Communications Officer
It’s Saturday, the day after my arrival in Pakistan. Goal for today is Swabi, a district in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) situated directly south of the district of Swat, where most of the fighting between the Pakistan army and the Taliban is taking place.
The districts of Swabi and neighbouring Mardan host most of the people who’ve left their homes. According to the United Nations, the number of people forced to flee has reached an incredible figure of three million.
Together with a project officer, Asim, I drive to Yar Hussain camp. It is outside Swabi town. On my arrival, I see rows of tents on either side of the road leading up to the entrance. The camp is monitored by the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. At the entrance, it is crowded with people waiting for registration.
I speak with Muhammed Kashif Niazi. He works for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is giving support to the UN. He explains that incoming families first get their accommodation (a tent). In order to receive food or items like soap and things for the kitchen, they need to register. Mr. Niazi said, “Untill now we have 13,569 registered people, with many people still waiting.”
Men and women are waiting strictly divided. In Pakistan, and especially in the North West Frontier Province, there is the practice of Purdah, the separation between men and women. Walking through the camp I see only men, boys and younger children. The women and girls are out of sight.
For registration, the women are led inside the fenced registration area while the men wait outside. Purdah leads to difficulties for women in the camps. There is lack of privacy. The women need to remain concealed and spend a lot of time in the tents. But with temperature rising to more than 40 C during daytime, that’s not easy to bear.
When I pass a food distribution, I see no women standing in line. What about female-headed households, how do they cope I wonder?
I talk to some men and ask why they are here? We had to run, our villages were shelled they say. There has been fighting for two years, they explain, but it was always specifically targeted. But a few weeks ago the army launched a massive offensive.
One man said, “I come from a small village in Dir. There was shelling on our village. We had to run, we could not take anything with us. We are here now for 25 days and we are with more than 20 families.”
Mr Mohammed said: “I’m from Swat valley. We were informed by an army loud speaker one day before the fighting started. We had to leave very suddenly. I’m here with my wife, mother, sister, aunt and children. But my brother, two sisters and their family were left behind. I do not know how they are.”
The men I talk to complain about the situation in the camps.
Mr Mohammed said, “It”s very hot in the tents. The water we get is hot and not clean. We do not get enough food for our families and for everything we have to stand in line’.
They also complain about access to medical facilities and lack of medication.
“There have only one kind of pills for every sickness”, another person tells me.
On the way back to our car I pass the children’s playground. I see 10 boys on a seesaw. They seem happy.
the names of the people interviewed in the camp have been are changed.