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Pakistani families forced to flee FATA “paradise”

A woman carries a child as she walks through the Jalozai IDP camp in Nowshera, Pakistan (June 3, 2013)
A woman carries a child as she walks through the Jalozai IDP camp in Nowshera, Pakistan (June 3, 2013) (Rebecca Conway/IRIN)

The last thing Sher Mohammed remembers before fleeing fighting in his village in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan was watching an eight-year-old girl being shot and killed by her father.

“I saw him point the gun at his daughter and shoot her. He told everyone that it was better to kill her now than have the militants rape and kill her later,” said Mohammed, 35, fighting back tears.

Fighting between Taliban affiliated militants and the army in FATA’s Tirah Valley near the border with Afghanistan, has driven 80,000 people from their homes since March in what residents describe as a terrifying and bloody onslaught by militants to gain control of the area.

Further fighting in the last few weeks in the neighbouring Kurram Agency has also displaced around 60,000, according to figures published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“We have seen what the militants do to their enemies; we have seen what they do to the people who don’t obey them,” Mohammed told IRIN.

Families displaced from Tirah Valley to established camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and villages in Peshawar District are the latest to be affected by the five-year conflict between militants and the army in FATA. Residents from Tirah are joining the over one million people currently displaced by the conflict.

Gul Badan, a woman in her 70s, said life in Jalozai camp is tough, and she misses home, but leaving had been her only option. In April, as fighting intensified in and around her village in the Maidan area of Tirah, her family was among a dozen that quietly left in the middle of the night.

There were two pregnant women in the group she left with, and both went into labour during the long walk out of Tirah. Badan shed tears as she recalled how the babies died soon after birth, and the women bled to death.

“We knew the journey would be tough, but we could either take that risk or be killed by the militants,” she said, sitting in her neighbour’s tent. Her husband, also in his 70s, is too old and weak for daily wage labour, often the only source of income for the men in displaced families. They have to rely on their nephews to pick up their monthly food aid package, provided by the World Food Programme.

Badan said she was grateful to have found a tent in Jalozai. “Militants would threaten us from the mosque speakers, [or] from speakers on their cars when they drove through the village,” she said.

“They would tell us to not leave our houses without a veil, or there would be consequences. They would threaten people directly, calling out their names from the mosque…

“The weather is always pleasant in Tirah, but it is boiling in the camp. I’m not used to this, but at least it is peaceful here. I don’t have to listen to threats every day, I can sleep at night.”

Threats, killings

Displaced families in Jalozai are provided with tents and basic household items, including electric fans, but frequent power cuts mean they are little help during the summer when temperatures often rise to above 45 degrees.

Anat Khel, a 45-year-old woman from Takhtakai village in Tirah, visits the offices of the camp administration and other NGOs almost every day, holding her two sons’ ID cards, hoping to find work for them. Her village has seen some of the worst violence of the Tirah conflict, and while she waited for months after fighting began, hoping for the situation to improve, the family decided in April to leave for Peshawar.

“It was the only way to save my sons,” Anat Khel said. Militants would visit her village and demand that families contribute money and men to fight for their group. Families that defied them would be threatened, or worse, killed. “Tirah is beautiful, it looks like paradise, but [militants] have destroyed it. No one feels safe, we were always afraid.”

Anat Khel’s family is among the 57,000 IDPs at Jalozai camp, set up in the 1980s to provide shelter to refugees fleeing the war in Afghanistan. Today, all of its residents come from FATA.

Yet they, and others in similar camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, as are just 10 percent of the total displaced population. Most have found shelter with relatives and friends, or have used their savings to rent houses.

Raees Khan, a 55-year-old farmer from the Maidan area of Tirah, now lives in a small house in Jalozai village, a kilometre from the camp. The turning point for his family came when militants, after repeated threats, shot and killed several of his cows and goats in April. His family gathered a few belongings and left that night.

“We were patient, and we prayed during the fighting. My sons work in the Middle East, so they couldn’t take anyone [force any of his sons] to fight with them, but they decided to go after my only source of income,” said Khan, sitting in a dusty courtyard where he has built a small shelter for the animals he brought with him.

"The weather is always pleasant in Tirah, but it is boiling in the camp. I’m not used to this, but at least it is peaceful here", Gul Badan, IDP, Jalozai camp

“When I got here, the rent was too much for us so we had to sell many animals for well below the market price.”

Khan’s family is from a strict and conservative part of Pakistan, where women observe ‘purdah’ or religious and social separation. Away from their village, the women of the family rarely get to leave their house. In Tirah, they would socialize with their extended families and work in the fields.

“Now, they are like birds in a cage,” Khan said. “My wife says every day, ‘we will be fine, let’s just go back’.”

A new life in Peshawar?

Many IDPs say that while they want to go home and rebuild their lives, there is little hope that they will get to do that any time soon, with fighting getting worse in the last few months. Some said they were planning on finding work in Peshawar and starting a new life.

Hukama Bibi, a widow in her 40s, is one such victim of the fighting. She left with her family in April 2012, after another phase of fighting between militants and the army in Tirah Valley.

Militants shot and killed her husband as they were leaving. After living for over a year in Jalozai camp, she said she has no desire to return. Abandoned by her brothers and extended family, Hukama Bibi says she has lost faith.

“I have been in Jalozai for a year, and I have given up on my family ever helping me. [My brothers] did not bother to see how I am doing even once. So I don’t care either,” she said, wiping away her tears with her sleeve. “But I can’t live here for ever, I want to move on.”

Hukama Bibi wants to look for housekeeping work in Peshawar, so she can send her two sons, aged four and six, to school. Eventually, she wants to rent a house in the city.

“I don’t have anyone anywhere. This is my life now, and I just want to do something for my sons.”


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

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