Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Operations in Wazirstan causing mass internal displacement of refugees

Karachi resources already overstretched to the limit because of uncontrolled urbanization, is struggling to manage the influx of refugees who have been fleeing the ongoing. operations in Waziristan.

A flight of desperation riddled with peril

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
By Qadeer Tanoli


While hundreds of families belonging to Waziristan are taking, or are aspiring to take, refuge in Karachi as a result of the military operation being carried out by the Army in the area against the Taliban, the journey to the metropolitan ‘sanctuary’ is a long and difficult one.

Seeking shelter in parts of the city that are already occupied by their relatives, mostly in some areas of Landhi, life isn’t easy even after the displaced families manage to flee the war-torn area.

Baghdan, a Waziristan local currently in Karachi, narrates the story of the grueling journey that he, his sisters and their children were faced with after they fled Zarmik, a village in South Waziristan, to get to Karachi around a fortnight ago.

Even getting to Miranshah, let alone Karachi, has become next to impossible for the locals of Waziristan, says Baghdan. Since the operation was launched, he continues, “Jeeps that previously charged Rs200 per person for traveling from far flung areas of South Waziristan all the way to Miranshah, are now charging Rs2,000 for the same destination.” He further adds that buses taking passengers from Banu or Miranshah all the way to Karachi – an otherwise relatively conventional route – are presently charging nothing less than Rs1,300 per person.

The reason behind the inflation in the charges, he says, is that, instead of taking the main roads and risking their lives in potential cross fire, they take the passengers through alternative, covert routes in an attempt to make the journey as safe as possible.

“Heavy snowfall in the operation-affected areas, forcing one to travel on foot, doesn’t make life any easier either,” Baghdan adds. According to him, male members of the fleeing families are transporting the women and children to Karachi, after which the men opt to head back to the village to take care of the cattle they are forced to leave behind.

Going on to talk about his family’s arrival in Karachi, Baghdan says that, even though the arrival of so many people from his village is cramping the available space, these displaced families appear content with their current living conditions. However, their sense of security may be short-lived.

Baghdan’s landlord, who also belongs to Waziristan, has asked them to vacate the house they have lived in since arriving from Zarmik soon, as his (the landlord’s) own family from the war affected area is heading to Karachi to seek shelter.

Muhammad Durrani, Baghdan’s neighbour in Karachi, says that these families are facing severe accommodation problems at present. Durrani assesses that they left their village in such haste, that they didn’t even bring enough clothing.

Durrani appeals to philanthropists to donate whatever they can to help equip these displaced families with basic human needs. Needless to say, the choice for the refugees is complex. While the family is faced with a renewed struggle to find shelter in Karachi now that they are here, living back home in Waziristan is far from easy these days – even if you manage to dodge the militant-Army conflict.

“Many incidents of robberies have taken place in my village, where locals were deprived of their valuables,” Baghdan says. With the robberies getting out of hand, the villagers turned to the local ‘Taliban’ for help, who then punished the culprits on the spot, he recalled.

Nasir, a seven-year-old nephew of Baghdan, has seen several incidents of bombings in his village. “A few days ago, I saw a bomb drop right in front of my house,” he says plainly.

Although the young boy is afraid of the bombings and shelling, he would still prefers to return to his village. Back in the village, however, Nasir’s father is far from anticipating the return of his family.

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