Page last updated at 05:46 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 06:46 UK

Swabi families shoulder refugee burden

A Pakistani internally displaced girl, fleeing from military operations against Taliban militants in troubled Swat valley and Buner, fans a child at a makeshift camp in Swabi
The vast majority of refugees in southern Swat are living with local families

By Jill McGivering
BBC News, Swabi

The population of Swabi, south of Swat in north-west Pakistan, has almost doubled in recent months as people have fled here to escape fighting further north.

Some are living in camps. But, as in many other places, the vast majority - about 80% - are less visible, crammed into the homes of local families.

Hamid Navaad Khan works with a girls' education project here, run by Unicef.

He, like most of his friends and neighbours, is trying to do his bit. He took me to his small guestroom which is now accommodating an extended family of 17 people.

During the day, they spilled out into the narrow garden outside. One woman was crouched over a small fire, cooking roti, local bread.

Another was washing clothes in a bucket. Women and children gathered under the trees, sheltering from the burning sun.

Isruruddin, one of the men of the family, told me that he runs a pharmacy shop at home.

Now all his stock would be out-of-date or spoiled, he said, and the cash he brought with him was already almost exhausted.


He told me about the hardships of 17 people sharing one room. The men had to sleep outside on the open ground at night, he said and were bitten by mosquitoes.

Displaced Pakistani people from the troubled Swat Valley receive food in Chota Lahore camp setup for refugees who fled fighting, in Swabi, Pakistan
The host families in Swabi are struggling to feed the extra mouths

The children were getting heat rashes and skin infections.

"I never thought I'd ask for handouts from the government," he said, "but now I'm really desperate."

I asked him what aid he had received from the government.

"A friend gave us two blankets and three floor mats," he said. "That's all we have had from the government, nothing else."

The women and girls told me they found it particularly difficult here. Theirs is a very conservative culture and they hadn't been out of this tiny garden since they first arrived more than a week ago.

Difficult situation

"I left behind a house filled with everything I needed," said one woman. "Now all our shelter and food is coming from local people."

We used to eat two rotis. Now we eat one and share one
Hamid Navaad Khan
Swabi resident

It's an increasingly difficult situation for the host families as well. They have lots of extra mouths to feed and no idea how long this is going to last.

Hamid said he had enough resources to feed the new arrivals for a few months but no longer. "We can spare some of our own food," he said.

"We used to eat two rotis. Now we eat one and share one."

He was cautious about criticising the government, pointing out that a crisis involving such a sudden and enormous movement of displaced people would be a challenge for anyone.


But he did say there should have been more groundwork.

"This was not a natural disaster," he told me, "it was a planned operation. They should have prepared for it for several months and then started the military offensive.

"But they rushed in and started the operation. And that made the displacement very sudden and unexpected."

There's a strong culture of hospitality here. Pathans find it unthinkable to refuse a guest or ask them to leave.

But as the weeks pass, some are starting to ask why the government isn't shouldering more of the burden itself.

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