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June 19, 2009
Pakistan offensive nears end; refugee crisis just beginning

The number of displaced people in Pakistan has swelled and stretched the country’s resources.

Pakistan’s military offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley is nearly over, according to the country’s defense minister.

However, the offensive has had enormous humanitarian costs, with more than 2 million people displaced as a result of conflict this year. The defense minister claims they will be able to start returning home on Saturday.

As people around the globe prepare for World Refugee Day on Saturday, a Worldfocus contributing blogger writes about Pakistan’s growing refugee crisis.

Nadia Tariq Ali works with The Asia Foundation in Pakistan and says that a failure to address Pakistan’s refugee situation could undermine any gains made in security.

United Nations officials have described the recent displacement of Pakistanis as the biggest humanitarian crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It is also the largest dislocation of people in the region since the partition of the South Asian subcontinent in 1947 and, arguably, the worst crisis facing Pakistan since Bangladesh separated from Pakistan in 1971.

The IDP problem in Pakistan is […]growing. The military offensive uprooted millions of people from three northwestern districts. As the offensive gained strength and people fled their homes for safety, the Pakistani government seemed unprepared for the crisis. Initially, no refugee camps existed, so many people went to the homes of their relatives and friends in other cities. However, in subsequent days, tens of thousands of people have gone to the special sites established for the IDPs in Mardan, Swabi, and Peshawar. Unfortunately, these facilities lacked even the most basic amenities of life: food, proper sanitation, and health facilities. The disruption of normal life has affected displaced persons psychologically, economically, socially, and emotionally. Women and girls face an extra risk of sexual and gender-based violence like rape, forced impregnation, forced abortion, trafficking, and sexual slavery in most internal displacement situations.

The international response to the situation leaves much to be desired. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the United Nations and humanitarian agencies have issued an appeal for $543 million. As of June 12, only 22 percent of the appeal has been funded. If more money does not come through soon, the dire IDP situation will be compounded.

[…]Focusing on longer-term reconstruction and recovery through economic and social empowerment will help people move forward and rebuild their lives. Pakistan, after all, is not only fighting for its own survival but also for greater regional stability and security, which could face serious setbacks if the displacement issue is not adequately addressed.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Al Jazeera English under a Creative Commons license.

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