PAKISTAN: Keeping the plight of the north-western displaced alive

2 November, 2011
A little girl plays with her WFP food collection bag in Jalozai camp, northern Pakistan. Credit: OCHA/Stacey Winston
A little girl plays with her WFP food collection bag in Jalozai camp, northern Pakistan. Credit: OCHA/Stacey Winston

In April this year, the Government of Pakistan said it was time for the residents of Jalozai camp to go home.

Jalozai is one of the largest camps for people displaced by conflict in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in north western Pakistan. In late 2008, thousands of families were forced to flee from fighting between the government and militants in the tribal areas, creating one of the fastest displacement crises in history.

The situation has since calmed, however, and in April this year the Government of Pakistan announced it was time to return to Bajaur Agency - the smallest of the subdivisions of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and a hub of militancy.

9,563 families have gone home. More than 2000 families, however, had nowhere to go, and remain in the camp. That includes 300 families from Kotki village, who discovered their former landlords did not want them back, and who have lost both their homes and their livelihoods.

Unfortunately, when the returns were announced, and Kotki declared safe, food aid to the families was stopped. Their future hung in the balance.

OCHA steps in, to keep displaced people’s plight on the agenda

Shaista Atta Ullah, part of the UNOCHA team in Peshawar, decided something needed to be done. For the past decade, Ms Ullah – a woman from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who understands the local language and culture - has dedicated her life to improving conditions for refugees and displaced people.

But over the past couple of years, she has seen the plight of Jalozai fall down the agenda, as other crises took centre stage. “The focus has shifted to other emergencies in Pakistan,” she says. “But the families in Jalozai still need solutions, to help them to return to their homes, or to integrate locally.”

Ms Ullah started calling for assistance for the stranded families in June, after the camp authorities brought their situation to her attention. OCHA has been in the camp since 2008, both coordinating assistance and taking part in regular community meetings.

“We are fortunate to be considered trustworthy by the camp administration, as well as the people living in the camp,” says Ms Ullah. “This keeps us informed about such cases, so we can get them solved in time.”

She discussed the situation in a series of meetings with the Government, camp authorities and the government, in Peshawar, the provincial capital, and in September 2011, food aid resumed to the struggling families of Jalozai.

Ms Ullah feels great pride in her accomplishment, especially as a woman in a male dominated culture. “It’s often difficult for women to promote the rights of others in a place where the idea of working women has only just evolved,” she says. “However, I must say, I am impressed by the level of respect I have been shown by the men I have been working with in Government, and humanitarian organizations, as well as the men living in the camps.”