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IDPs’ return to begin next month

Updated August 25, 2013

PESHAWAR, Aug 24: The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has declared the key Bagh-Maidan area of Tirah valley in Khyber Agency safe for the return of the internally displaced persons.

Sources in Fata Disaster Management Authority said the repatriation of 17,140 displaced families, which were forced to flee the area due to the armed clashes between Ansarul Islam and Lashkar-i-Islam, and the subsequent military operation, was likely to begin next month.

“Stakeholders are finalising plans. The return programme is expected to begin by the end of September,” said a relevant official.

The remote area has been de-notified as conflict zone after security forces flushed out militants from the valley and secured strategic locations.

A UN security assessment mission had carried out the ‘return intention survey’ at the IDPs’ camps and in host communities to seek opinion of the affected families about return process.

According to the mission report, 96 per cent of the IDPs showed willingness to return home. The mission also visited de-notified area last month and assessed security situation as wells as collect information about humanitarian situation and basic requirements of the returnees.

The mission held meetings with filed commanders as well as officials of the line departments.

The report said the entire area of Bagh Maidan was safe for the IDPs’ return.

Security forces had launched operation after clashes broke out between Ansarul Islam and Lashkar-i-Islam in May.

Earlier, the government had notified 98 villages in Bagh Maidan as conflicted affected. The law-enforcement agencies backed Ansarul Islam and combat operation was accomplished on June 10.

During meeting military commander informed the mission that entire Maidan area had been cleared of miscreants, mines and unexploded ordnances while it would be re-cleared three to four days before the actual returns take place.

The report said around 1,500 IDPs mainly males had returned to the area to assess the condition of their houses as the entire area at the moment was under the control of the security forces.

The mission pointed out that not a single government school was available for either boys or girls in Bagh Maidan having around 100,000 populations.

A few private schools existed in the valley before the local residents were displaced, but they are in ruins, now.

Due to unavailability of school buildings, it has been recommended to establish tented schools in the area and provide teachers on priority basis.

“Astonishingly, there is no health facility and even any government structure available in Tirah valley,” the UN mission said in its report, adding even the office of the political administration did not exist in the area.

Majority of the houses are damaged either fully or partially and especially women and adolescent girls will be facing privacy issues on return. Markets are not functional yet. Most shops have been plundered, torched or bore the brunt of artillery firing.According to the mission, the civil administration should establish offices in Tirah valley to support returnees.

Also, the government should provide adequate information on the process and the modalities of application for the compensation programme, and ensure a swift roll-out programme to contribute to the reconstruction of the houses in the area.