A new Pakistan army offensive against militants in Kurram Agency in the northwest has sent thousands of people fleeing on trucks, vans, tractors and other vehicles; aid agencies are trying to map out a response.
“The operation has been launched to clear the area of terrorists involved in acts of terrorism, including kidnapping and killing of local people, suicide attacks and blocking the road that connects Lower Kurram with Upper Kurram,” military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told the media on 5 July.
Civilians were forced to flee conflict-hit areas along the tribal belt made up of seven agencies along the Pakistan-Afghan border after the operation began on 3 July. “I am waiting for news of my parents, grandparents and four siblings," Faheem Ali, 24, who works as a pharmacist, told IRIN in Peshawar.
"They set out from our home in central Kurram on Monday [4 July] and are trying to join me here in Peshawar,” he added, saying he had failed to establish contact with them for over 14 hours and could only hope they “get here safely given the heavy firing that is taking place”.
“There is likely to be a displacement of at least 4,000 families and possibly double that number due to this latest fighting,” Arshad Khan, head of the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told IRIN.
Already, he added, 1,000 families - around 7,000 individuals - had been displaced since the operation started.
Aid agencies said they were preparing to help the newly displaced.
“We are working closely with the DMA in FATA and government authorities there, as we are not on the ground in Kurram,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
She said people displaced from Kurram were being accommodated at Durrani Camp, a former Afghan refugee camp, in the town of Sadda in Lower Kurram. Following a request from the DMA in FATA, the UNHCR has so far provided 700 tents and other non-food items for those displaced in Kurram.
The DMA in FATA says 250 families have reached the camp while others have moved in with relatives in various parts of Kurram or Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province. The fresh displacements add to the 34,785 already displaced from Kurram, according to official statistics.
“The situation in Kurram is looking grim. We have conducted a meeting to determine how to help them,” Riaz Khan, a medical student who also works with a volunteer student group to help the displaced, told IRIN. He said a campaign to “collect funds and food item donations” would be launched.
Other NGOs cite lack of access to conflict-hit areas as a key problem, preventing them from helping people. This means that most welfare activities are being carried out, for now, by local authorities. “We have arranged food and non-food items for the displaced,” Sahibzada Muhammad Anees, who heads the local administration in Kurram, told the media.
“There is real fear in Kurram. Because the road linking the agency to Peshawar has been closed for many months due to fighting, it is not easy to leave. People feel trapped, and therefore even more scared,” Kareem Abassi, 37, told IRIN. Abassi left Kurram with his family of five a week ago, as rumours of a military operation spread.
"Thousands of others are preparing to do the same,” he added. “I am glad I am out with my children and wife.”
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