Pakistan crisis "far from over" as some displaced return home
"The crisis is far from over," said Mike Young, the IRC's Pakistan country representative. "Information about what conditions are like inside the return areas is patchy and confused. Some areas have experienced heavy destruction; others appear to be relatively unscathed. Based on past experience, it is also likely that the Taliban haven't been cleared out. We have heard many stories of displaced families returning only to have members killed by the Taliban."
"The conflict is still ongoing in many areas of Swat, Buner, Dir, Bajaur and Mohmand-areas that the government is declaring as clear and safe," Young added. "We have seen people return only to come back out again, either because conditions were unsafe or because they were unable to obtain promised assistance."
Meanwhile, Young said, fresh fighting in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan threatened to create a new wave of displacement.
Informal IRC surveys of potential returnees indicates that around 60 percent of displaced people do not want to return at this time - principally because they fear that government will not be able to protect them from a still-active Taliban, according to IRC staff members who observed the official government return process in Jalozai, Sheikh Yasin, Sheikh Shahzad and Palosa camps this week.
"The second concern is access to assistance and livelihoods," Young said. "Many displaced people have lost all their assets, have missed the vital planting and harvesting seasons, and have been unable to access government cash assistance.
One displaced man who spoke to the IRC said that it was too soon to think about returning.
"What we saw, what we experienced, all the violence that we could never have imagined. No, I am not ready to talk about return yet," he said. "In two years, when these memories are gone, yes."
Abdul Haseeb, the IRC's senior humanitarian response coordinator, witnessed the return process in Jalozai camp near Peshawar earlier this week.
"While I'm pleased to see that the process appears to be orderly, we hear that curfews and [security] check points are affecting the return route. There is a huge search operation in Mingora, the main city in Swat district, and ongoing military operations, causing convoys with returning people to be diverted from their original route. We are following up with returnees to find out how the trip went and the state of their villages when they arrived."
It is vital to get accurate and full information on the government's plans, and on the condition of Swat's towns and villages, out to returnees, said Taj Sultana, the IRC's protection coordinator.
"People are feeling a lot of anxiety due to a lack of information," she said. Sultana noted that there is still little independent, reliable news on security or the state of infrastructure in Swat. Meanwhile, a majority of displaced families in the camps who were promised government financial assistance of about US$ 300 have not yet received it-and say they will not leave without it.
The IRC is working with UNHCR, the UN relief agency, to improve the flow of information by providing legal information and by producing radio programs and printing brochures in Urdu and Pashto on the rights of displaced people. As conditions permit, the IRC hopes to provide rapid relief services to the areas where people are returning.