Ensure the protection of Pakistani civilians: Refugees International

`Decisions on aid receivers based on political agendas’

27th October 2009: In a new field report, Refugees International has urged nations to ensure the protection of Pakistani civilians.

Expressing concern over politicization of relief efforts, the report states it is in the strategic interest of the international community, and in particular the U.S., to ensure that Pakistani civilians in dire need of humanitarian assistance do not remain disenfranchised.

The report, "Pakistan: Protect People First", on humanitarian crisis in Pakistan provides context for the recent suicide bombings, the siege of Pakistan’s military headquarters, and the controversy over U.S. government aid. It has been released in Washington, D.C.

The report’s authors recently returned from Pakistan after weeks of field research and saw first-hand the human devastation caused by violence and ongoing political conflict, including witnessing the aftermath of the World Food Program bombing in Islamabad.

Their analysis is the result of on-the-ground research and takes a hard look at how the policies of the U.S. government and the United Nations affect the displaced in Pakistan.

The report says the decisions on who gets aid are based on political agendas and discrimination. The Pakistani government is coordinating the registration of displaced civilians based on geographic origin and not on need; as a result civilians are being denied aid because they are from the "wrong district." 

Reports indicate there is discrimination against those who did not flee during fighting because the military considers them to be insurgent "collaborators." On the other hand, some say the government is viewing people from certain areas, including those who fled, as "insurgents who deserve to be punished."

The report suggests the U.S. should recognize and convince the government of Pakistan that better protection of civilians will advance their policy objectives. The U.S. needs to lend its political weight towards ensuring civilians are protected from ongoing violence and that relief assistance is provided to all vulnerable individuals by the government of Pakistan regardless of geographic origin or tribal allegiances.

It should also do everything possible to ensure the UN has enough space to independently assess where and how it should work – in particular that distribution of aid is delinked from government lists. Greater civilian protection in the relief effort will enhance popular allegiance to the government.

It adds displacement continues and instability remains in return areas. In addition to expanded military operations in South Waziristan, pockets of violence remain elsewhere in the country. This has led to continued civilian displacement. Very little is known about the situation of those who have returned to areas deemed safe by the government because access to these areas by aid organizations is severely limited.

Recently, a major aid organization was asked to leave the Swat district because it "asked too many questions" and wanted to operate too independently. The government of Pakistan has hailed the returns process as a success but serious protection concerns remain, and the international community cannot turn its entire focus to reconstruction while hundreds of thousands remain in dire need of emergency relief.

Refugees International advocate Patrick Duplat, who co-authored the report and recently returned from a fact-finding trip in Pakistan, says: "Humanitarian aid is a necessity for the thousands of displaced civilians and right now many of those who need aid are being discriminated against.

"In the Khyber area, civilians told us they fled because of bombings and violence, whereas officials in a refugee camp told us that civilians could not register for aid because there was no conflict, only a ‘police operation.’ These kinds of semantics on the part of the government are leading to serious consequences for civilians and for the stability of the country."

Senior advocate for Refugees International Kristele Younes adds: "The U.S. has shown that Pakistan’s stability is a key priority and recent legislation has generously authorized billions of dollars in non-military assistance," said,. "The U.S. needs to communicate its objectives for the use of this money, and make it clear that protecting the Pakistani people is a top priority."

Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises; and receives no government or UN funding.

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