IDPs from South Waziristan begin hesitant return

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, 9 December 2010 (IRIN) - For more than a year, houses in the town of Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtoonkh’wa province have been rented by internally displaced persons (IDPs) from South Waziristan, most of them displaced since October 2009 when the Pakistan military launched an operation against Taliban militants in the area.

Some of these houses are now being vacated. “We have decided to go back. [However,] there are risks as there are still militants in the area,” Abdullah Jan, 60, head of an extended family of 20 from the Sararogha village in South Waziristan, told IRIN.

He said the costs of displacement were a factor in the decision. “We have been paying Rs15,000 [US$176] for many months, and it is a drain on resources though all my three sons have found jobs,” he said. Jan also believes “we must rebuild lives at home, see if our house still stands and see how we can manage”.

But others have no intention of returning yet. “It is simply too dangerous. We are told we are to be taken back in convoys and this will immediately make us targets as the militants will associate us with the government and military,” Sajad Ullah, 45, said. 

He also said the amount of Rs25,000 [$300 approx] being given by the government as compensation to those going back was “insufficient” to meet even basic needs. 

Only a fraction of the 60,000-80,000 people displaced from areas of South Waziristan where returns have been agreed between security forces and tribesmen, have gone back, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

Reluctant to return

Brigadier Shahzad Raza, the army official in charge of the repatriation operation, told the media in Dera Ismail Khan that families from six villages had been selected to return, as their areas had been secured by the military. He said it was disappointing that so few had decided to return.

The military had declared victory over militants in South Waziristan in February this year but has since struggled to persuade people to return.

“Return is a voluntary process. We can't say how many people will return,” Duniya Aslam Khan, public information assistant at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN. “The returns to South Waziristan started on 4 December and until 7 December 153 families with 627 individuals have returned,” she said.

UNHCR is co-chairing a voluntary returns task force with the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), which also includes other humanitarian agencies. “We are providing transport to the returning families from Tank and Dera Ismail Khan to their villages in Waziristan. In addition, we are also helping them with some non-food assistance, which includes shelter material like tents, plastic sheeting, sleeping mats and some basic household supplies like cooking sets, mosquito nets, jerry cans and buckets,” Khan said.

However, IDPs complain they are being neglected. “We will go back to houses shattered by mortar shells and lands destroyed by the fighting, but not only do we face a security risk as the Taliban are still hiding in villages, the government is focusing only on the flood victims and not us,” said Wali Gul, 35, who has not yet decided if he and his family of six should go home.

“The displaced people know there are still grave security concerns. The military, meanwhile, wants villages re-occupied as a part of its strategy against militants,” an administration official who asked not to be named told IRIN from the town of Wana in South Waziristan. “It is a dilemma,” he said.