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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
British Pakistanis reach out to help
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Ali Khan
Ali Khan plans to travel to Pakistan at the end of the week

Worried about relatives and frustrated by not being able to get sufficient information over the phone, hundreds of member of British-based communities with family in areas affected by the South Asian earthquake are flying to their country of origin.

BBC News spoke to worried relatives at the Pakistan Embassy in London, where emergency visas were being issued.

Ali Khan was born in the UK, but his family ties to Kashmir have left him reeling in the aftermath of the South Asia earthquake.

"I didn't know if I'd ever see my mum or baby brother again. That was the first thing that I thought," said Mr Khan.

His mother and three-year-old brother are in the region as part of a holiday and were caught up in the chaos and destruction caused by the quake, but have since managed to call to say they are alive and safe.

Despite this news, Mr Khan, 22, remains fearful that other members of his extended family - particularly elderly and young relatives - may have perished in the disaster.

"We're struggling to find out who is alive or dead, lost or found, because the phone lines are either down or busy.

"I managed to speak to my mum once and she said she is surrounded by chaos and she is worried about the possibility of aftershocks. She says it is terrifying."

Wahid Rasual
Wahid Rasual stressed the importance of his roots

Mr Khan, a self-employed businessman from Berkshire, spoke outside the Pakistan High Commission in London, where he came - along with dozens of others - to arrange an emergency visa to travel to the region.

He explained that he has used money transfers to send funds and plans to travel to Kashmir at the end of the week to assist in the search for the uncles, aunts and grandparents that his mother said were unaccounted for during their snatched telephone conversation.

It is estimated up to 1.5 million Britons have links to the area hit by the 7.6-magnitude quake which struck Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern India on Saturday morning.

Another person in that position is Wahid Rasual, 22, who travelled to the Commission from his home in Reading to arrange travel documents for his father and brother.

His family is from the rural town of Mirpour, he explained, adding that he was overwhelmed by a sense of dread.

It will take a very long time for them to get back on their feet - a lot of people have lost everything and will have to start from scratch
Nazma Hafeez

"I was shocked when I heard what had happened. Your hear about it happening in other places, but you never think it will happen to people you know and love," he said.

"We're worried that a whole generation may have been wiped out. The death toll is going to keep rising.

"I have heard that friends of the family have been killed, but I haven't heard of any deaths in my family."

He also explained that people of southern Asian descent born in Britain felt a strong desire to "give something back" to their country of origin.

"It is time for British-born Pakistanis and Pakistanis around the world to show how much they appreciate their home country.

"Obviously I was born here, but the vast majority of my extended family are based over there."

Charity appeals have already been launched by the British Red Cross, Oxfam, Unicef, Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid, with Oxfam reporting around 50,000 generated within the first hour alone.

Nazma and Mohammed Hafeez
Nazma Hafeez believes reconstruction will be a long process

Oxfam estimated it would spend 4m on its relief effort, expecting to help 300,000 people.

And thoughts have already begun to turn towards the reconstruction process.

Nazma Hafeez and her husband, Mohammed, both plan to fly to Pakistan later this week.

Mrs Hafeez said her parents were "fine, but very upset" because Pakistan lacks the form of infrastructure "where people get help and money to sort themselves out".

"I've never know anything like this to happen to Pakistan," she said.

"We want to go out there because we feel useless here. We're just sitting watching it all on television.

"It will take a very long time for them to get back on their feet. A lot of people have lost everything and will have to start from scratch."



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