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Life far away from normal in northwestern Pakistan

Mar 26, 2010

Thousands of people who had fled northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border, in August 2008 have returned to their broken homes and empty schools. However in Jalozai Camp, International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF are trying to provide schooling to children.

Peshawar, Pakistan: Some of the estimated 430,000 people who fled Bajaur and neighbouring Mohmand agency near the Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan since fighting began in August 2008 have returned-to broken homes and empty schools.

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They were able to return after the army declared the Bajaur tribal area clear of all militants at the beginning of March.

“Things are still very hard here. Schools have technically re-opened, but there are no teachers, since most are still away, and my daughter’s school has been damaged in the conflict, so there is no sense in sending the children,” recent returnee Zaheer-ud-Din told IRIN on the phone from Khar, the principal town of Bajaur.

According to media reports, at least 74 schools and colleges were destroyed by militants in Bajaur during the conflict.

“I have a job as a teacher at a Khar school, and I hear schools have re-opened there, but we will go back only when it is safe,” said Gulbahar Bibi, 35, who fled Bajaur to Jalozai Camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nowshera, near Peshawar.

Attacks continue

Despite claims of victory over the militants in Bajaur, attacks on schools have continued. Two were blown up earlier this month and a third hit in the Nawagai area of Bajaur on 21 March. 

“Militants planted explosives at night inside a boys’ school here. It was burnt down when a fire broke out,” the political ‘tehsildar’ (administrative officer) told IRIN from the area.

Another administrative official in Khar, who asked not to be named, described the security situation in Bajaur as “very alarming.” He said militants “continue to target schools from various hideouts.”

“We actually feel very unsafe here. There are reports of sporadic conflict and still no schooling available,” Zaheer-ud-Din said. Like many other children in Bajaur, his two sons and daughter have not attended schools regularly since August 2008.

Jalozai Camp

In Jalozai Camp, families wait anxiously for news of conditions in their respective areas of Bajaur and try and determine when the right time to return would be. 

“We have been here for 13 months. Things are tough, but at least it’s safe. We’ve heard there’s still a lot of unrest in Bajaur,” said Azimullah Khan, 40, adding that he had found a job as a labourer in Peshawar. “I’m earning more than I would at home. Our fields and crops will have been destroyed in the time we have been away. It’ll be hard to manage. And we’re better off because our children can go to school here.”

He said he would continue to stay in the camp, despite the government announcing plans to begin repatriating people displaced from Mohmand and Bajaur.

According to the UN, schools supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross will be operational within days in Jalozai Camp and nearly 2,100 children will be enrolled. In addition, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has started evening classes for secondary students in the same camp, benefitting some 260 students, including 46 girls.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s latest update has further details of the current humanitarian situation in northwestern Pakistan.

Source : IRIN
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