People have been turned away from relief camps set up for flood victims in Pakistan mostly due to a lack of space, but in some instances decisions on who gets aid appear to have been affected by religious or ethnic discrimination.
“We saw several families of gypsies who had reached a camp turned away by other victims and some organizers of the NGO running it. The women were in tears because they had nowhere to go,” Imdad Imran, 30, a flood victim, told IRIN.
“People call us ‘unclean’ or say we are thieves. We have camped by the road because we know other flood victims may not like us to live near them in camps,” said Bala Din, 60, a gypsy, who has been with some 30 other members of the community on a roadside since the floods forced people to evacuate villages across Muzaffargarh District, in the southwestern part of Punjab Province, in early August.
He said they had received sporadic food hand-outs from relief workers. “But we are often hungry unlike those in camps.” The nomadic gypsies who can be found across the country frequently face prejudice.
They are not alone. Following the floods, other groups have also been denied aid on the basis of their identity. In Punjab Province’s nearby Dera Ghazi Khan District, villagers from the Ahmadi sect, considered non-Muslims under Pakistan’s laws, were turned away from camps after fleeing homes along the River Indus.
“Local clerics began to demand these Ahmadis not be allowed into the camps. Police backed them. About 500 families were affected,” Qamar Suleiman, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community, told IRIN from the central Punjab town of Rabwah. There have been similar complaints from the districts of Muzaffargarh and nearby Rajanpur.
“The Ahmadi community itself helped these people. Some were brought to Rabwah and some given help in Dera Ghazi Khan,” said Suleiman.
Hassan Iqbal, the commissioner of Dera Ghazi Khan, told the media “Ahmadis should approach me directly if there is discrimination.”
In other cases cultural insensitivity appears to have influenced the relief offered to minority groups. In Karachi around 600 flood victims from the Hindu community staged a protest over being given beef - a meat forbidden them on religious grounds. Government officials attributed the incident to a misunderstanding.
“There may have been cases in which some Hindus were denied a place in camps in Sindh [Province], but Muslims have also been denied [places] in other cases. This flooding crisis is so immense that problems like this will occur, amidst all the chaos, but discrimination may not be to blame,” Amarnath Motumal, a Hindu community leader, told IRIN from Karachi. He said discrimination against religious minorities was widespread, and many incidents had taken place which were not linked to the floods.
“We have come here, to Muzaffargarh, to stay with relatives who offered shelter. But I can’t find a job because people say they would rather help a Muslim,” said Ram Lal, 40, a Hindu from the Ghotki area in Sindh.
There have also been encouraging examples of harmony between people of different faiths. In other cases, the desperation for food has led to demonstrations of bias.
“We saw Muslims push Sikhs and Hindus away from food distribution points, and had to intervene to make sure they were fed,” said a district administration official from Sukkur in Sindh, who asked not to be named.
“No distinction is made by us on the basis of religion, caste or relationship when distributing relief,” Amjad Jamal, a spokesman for WFP, told IRIN from Islamabad.
But concern over discrimination remains high, with the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressing shock over the denial of shelter and relief to Ahmadi flood victims.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions