Nearly 300000 uprooted Pakistanis return home to northwest – UN

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Last week, the Pakistani authorities began a programme for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to some parts of Buner and Swat, among the areas hardest hit by the operations pitting Government forces against militants in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).The returns are “largely individual and spontaneous,” with the Government providing support in some instances, Wolfgang Herbinger, the acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, told the UN News Centre.Over the past week, some 280,000 people have returned to Swat and Buner, where he estimated that over half those who fled fighting have now returned.The vast majority of the 2 million people who have escaped the violence are sheltering either in schools and other public buildings, with host families or in rental accommodations.With the monsoon season set to start shortly, the camps housing a portion of the IDPs are in danger of flooding, and the Government “is making efforts to move people and ask whether they want to return” to their homes, Mr. Herbinger said.Last week, the top UN humanitarian official underscored the need for returns to be voluntary, with “no obligation to return before people are ready.”Under-Secretary-General John Holmes, who visited Pakistan earlier this month, stressed the need for proper consultation with the people concerned and to ensure that the right conditions are in place for their returns. “There has to be basic security there… the power needs to be on, the water needs to be running, the police force needs to be there, the local administration needs to be in place.“The main point is that returns have got to be sustainable,” he stressed, adding that the worst scenario would be if people went back and were then displaced again.The UN, Mr. Herbinger said today, is “trying to ease” the return of displaced people, with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) providing food in places of return and setting up humanitarian hubs where items will be handed out.With plans in place for a military offensive in Waziristan, also in north-west Pakistan, the UN, he said, is undertaking contingency plans, planning to set up logistics centres where it believes people might escape to.In a related development, the UN humanitarian arm announced today that only 43 per cent of the $542 million required to assist Pakistan, the scene of what is currently the world’s fourth largest displacement crisis, has been provided for.Although support for the most essential needs such as food has been relatively well-funded, Mr. Herbinger voiced concern that given the start of returns, IDPs will need support for the foreseeable future.“I do not think the international community ahs given the depth and extent of this humanitarian crisis the attention that it deserves,” he said.The funds appealed for have increased ten-fold from the original 2009 appeal for Pakistan, launched last November, due to the unravelling humanitarian situation in the South Asian nation’s north-west.Last week, Zill-e Usman, a 59-year-old Pakistani national who had served with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 1984, was shot by unidentified gunmen in the Kutcha Gari camp on the border of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in NWFP. Four to five gunmen reportedly opened fire as he was walking back from the camp administrative office to his car during a routine visit to the site.Top UN officials roundly condemned the killing, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemning the “brutal attack on humanitarian personnel who are working for the well-being of the Pakistani people,” according to a statement issued by his spokesperson.UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres voiced his outrage at the killing of Mr. Usman, who leaves behind a wife and four children. “There is no justification for attacks on humanitarian workers dedicated to the protection and care of the most vulnerable people,” he said. The slain UNHCR staff member was working on the repatriation of people displaced by a conflict in Pakistan’s tribal areas that broke out in August 2008. 21 July 2009Almost 300,000 Pakistanis – out of some 2 million uprooted by clashes in the country’s northwest – have returned home, a senior United Nations humanitarian official said today, hailing the returns as a “positive development.”

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