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Home a distant memory for Jalozai IDPs

In the heat of the summer, seven-year-old Naima Khan tries to construct a mud house for her doll outside her tattered tent in Jalozai Camp. It’s been her goal since her school teacher told her that mud houses keep one cool in the heat.

Naima has been living with her parents in the Jalozai Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for the last four years. They migrated from Nala Kajori village in Khyber Agency because of violent militancy in the region. Her father gifted her the doll after she did well in her exams.

Jalozai camp, situated in Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), was established originally in 1980 for Afghan refugees who migrated to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Since May 2008, however, the camp became a centre for refugees from KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

Around 55,850 people belonging to Khyber Agency still live there, while previously the vast refuge has housed people from Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies.

Many have been here for a while now, but that doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten the past. Naima’s father, 58-year-old Tila Muhammad Khan, has been living at Jalozai for four years, and before that he was a driver in Tehsil Bara.

According to Tila, he was living in peace in his village before militant activity increased manifold in his area. Tila says one of the major reasons behind his decision to migrate was frequent terrorist activities against innocents, as well as clashes between militant organisations; namely, Lashkar-i-Islam led by Mangal Bagh Afridi and Ansarul Islam headed by Qazi Mahboobul Haq.

“How could I feed my children while being jobless? No one is ready to hire me as a labourer due to my old age,” he adds. Tila explained that amongst the many problems they face are shortage of food, schools, and health facilities on top of unemployment. But there seems to be no way out: “The government had failed to maintain peace in our areas during the last four years. It should be the first priority of the government to send us back to our homes,” he says.

Asmatullah is another such refugee. The 34-year-old was a shopkeeper in Bara Market but after his shop was destroyed by militants, he fled to the Jalozai Camp as well. But even here, he was unable to find safety. The father of six was injured in a car bomb attack which occurred within the camp on March 21, 2013, in which 15 people were killed – including women and children.

“I was admitted to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar for 25 days due to severe injuries. I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” he says. His financial fortunes have also been reversed: “Earlier, I liked to help poor people in my village but now I need help from others to feed my family.”

Referring to why he left his house in Bara (it was particularly difficult for him, because the house belonged to his father), Asmatullah shed light on what routine life had become: “For keeping a television set, Mangal Bagh fined Rs 50,000. He established Qazi Courts in Bara which award punishments by removing hands of thieves,” he explains.

An official of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Khalid Usman, who is the Camp Coordinator at Jalozai camp, told that 291,154 people migrated from Khyber Agency due to militancy since 2009 while 55, 850 individuals of 12,170 families are residing in the camp as yet. The remaining families are residing in Tough Sarai camp which is situated in KP’s Hangu district and Durrani camp, located in Fata’s Kurram Agency.

Usman says that the facilities provided to the IDPs of Bara and Tirah are received with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). “The IDPs receive food items on a monthly basis. There are also 23 schools, including one high school for IDP students, in the camp,” he says.

The camp coordinator further explains that there is close coordination between the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), PDMA and UNHCR but due to the security situation in Khyber Agency, there is no plan to repatriate the refugees yet. “It is very difficult for these IDPs to stay in the camp because of the hot weather; especially because the areas they’ve migrated from are very cold,” Usman says.

Khyber Agency Political Agent Mutahir Zeb said that the government shifted the IDPs to camps to ensure their safety, while the government is trying to clear the area from terrorists.

An MNA from Bara tehsil, Nasir Khan, informed that the majority of people from his constituency reside in camps. “It is the responsibility of the state to provide security to its nationals on a priority basis,” he added, saying he would try his best to get Parliament to take steps for the restoration of peace in Khyber.

Meanwhile, Tila dreams of returning to his home. His daughter Naima says she wants to become a teacher and teach girls – in the village back home she barely remembers.

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Comments (4) Closed

Jun 29, 2013 01:56am

very deep and intense story. A job well done!

Jamil Khokhar
Jun 29, 2013 08:24am

These people are our brothers and should be formally registered and their energy invested into the betterment of our beloved Pakistan. Most of them are born here and have been in Pakistan longer than many of the illegals that live in Karachi. If anything they are more Pakistani than most of us having struggled to make ends meet. The government needs to streamline a process to integrate these individuals and provide them with resourses.

We welcome you with open open arms! lets make a better Pakistan together!

Khan JEE
Jun 29, 2013 10:39am

They are suffering in these inhumane conditions needlessly. I suppose they are the victims of longest curfew imposed in the history of world. this barbarism must end now

Jun 30, 2013 12:48am

Great Story of great and brave peoples of Khyber agency , Thanks for publishing . Mr Irfan sab