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An Insight into the Critical Situation of IDPs in NWFP | A First-Hand Account from Mardan

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The following first-hand account of the IDPs was sent to us by one of our readers, Ibn Abdul Aziz (true identity withheld on request). We are extremely thankful to the brother for taking the time to write this extremely important account of the terrible situation being faced by ordinary Pakistanis, who have become refugees within their own country. Ibn AbdulAziz is one of the people who Allah has blessed to “walk the talk”. Instead of spending day and night talking about politics and whining about the situation, he contributed his small part to help his brothers & sisters. May Allah reward him profusely, jazakumAllahkhair. We urge our readers that if this isn’t enough to convince you to participate in helping these IDPs, then we don’t know what will. Donate your time and money. Do whatever you can to play your small part.

An Insight into the Critical Situation in NWFP by Ibn Abdul Aziz  (July 17, 2009)

My Role

I live in the city of Karachi but alhumdulilah two weeks ago, I was given an opportunity of a lifetime by Allah (SWT) to visit the troubled area of Mardan in NWFP province, and to assess the humanitarian crisis in the area; a trip financed by the charitable organization, Helping Hand.

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Before I went, I was a little skeptical about the whole situation. My mind was filled with questions: Who’s right and who’s wrong: the Pakistani government or the Taliban? Which side was the instigator and which side was the victim? Who was responsible for this whole mess? How much was US intervention involved?

But after visiting my brothers and sisters in the area and realizing their problems, my thoughts took a U-turn. Instead of trying to decipher the political game played by world leaders in this area, I realized that my role was totally different. On the Day of Judgment, Allah (SWT) will ask me not if Baitullah Mehsud made the right decision or if President Zardari should be punished for killing Muslims. Instead I will be responsible for helping out my brothers and sisters, who had been afflicted with hardship. In regards to trying to the politics being played, I, as an average citizen do not have any role nor can my intervention in politics help the cause of these afflicted people. Instead, my mind’s focus was on this important question: how can I help my Muslim brothers and sisters?

The Current Situation

According to the Pakistani government, 16% of the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons- the refugees) are staying in camps, equivalent to nearly 170,000 people. The rest of the IDPs, 84% (nearly 900,000), are staying with host families, i.e. are being accommodated in schools, colleges, homes of relatives or strangers and so on. In the beginning, the locals were extremely generous and donated of their possessions what they could. But the people of Mardan and the surrounding areas are not rich themselves, and now the area is increasingly low on food and other essential supplies. Their relatives or strangers have been guests at their homes for more than a month, and Allah knows best how long these guests will have to stay away from their own homes.

As for the military operation, fighting is still going on in the afflicted areas even though the government has overwhelmingly declared that the situation has ameliorated. My contact in the area has said that insha’Allah it will be safe to go back by Ramadan.

Helping Hand in cooperation with various other non-governmental relief organizations like Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority of Pakistan), and the World Food Program has managed to deliver food to hundreds of thousands of families. They have also setup medical facilities, approximately 45 mobile medical units and 5 permanent ones. They have a camp in Takht Bhai, Mardan where they house almost a hundred families. Here is a story of one of the residents, Iqbal Husain.

The Story of Iqbal Husain

A School Teacher

Iqbal Husain was born and raised in Swat. He lived in Waliabad, Swat where he was an English and Math teacher at an elementary school. After school hours, he would go to his store and spend his evenings as a part-time electrician. He lived in a two-room house with his wife and kids. His brother, Muhammad Husain, also a Math and English teacher, worked at a private school. Muhammad Husain was better off than his brother and owned two houses.

As the end of May approached, the Pakistan army had started attacking the Taliban. As a result, harm to Swat’s citizens was once again considered collateral damage. His brother, Muhammad had moved into Iqbal’s house days earlier since one of Muhammad’s houses had been shelled and partially damaged. Every night, his children would hear guns firing, helicopters flying, and bombs exploding. Iqbal felt that the best decision was to leave Swat, at least temporarily, until the situation got better. Iqbal was born in Swat, and had lived all his life in there. The same was true for the rest of his family. But now, fearful for the lives of his wife and five children, Iqbal decided that he should abandon his home. Iqbal knew the uncertainties and dangers that his family would face if they became refugees, but he felt he had no other choice.

Leaving his Homeland

On May 28th, Iqbal made the most momentous decision of his life to leave Swat. In utter desperation, he gathered up his belongings and fled his home with his family. He was joined by seventeen members of his extended family, including his sister and two brothers’ families. The group walked for seven and a half long hours through the mountains before they finally reached the city of Bunair. The trek through the mountains was extremely difficult for the children and many of them became sick on the way. In Bunair, they found a ride to Mardan for Rs. 300 per person which was more than three times the normal fare. All in all, the short ride to Mardan cost his family a fortune but they had no choice but to pay the asking price.

Arriving in Mardan was just the beginning of their troubles. By the time they reached the beautiful city of Mardan, they found it already overcrowded. The people of Mardan were extremely hospitable and had offered all they had to their uninvited guests. Some who had two rooms gave one of away. Others gave much of their houses to complete strangers. There were large dinners for the refugees and all types of accommodations were provided for them. But the people of Mardan were not rich themselves and they could only provide supplies to a certain extent. When Iqbal and his family reached Mardan, no one had any space to house any more refugees. Every place was full. People already had dozens of outsiders living in their house and they couldn’t cater to any more people.

And so Iqbal and his family moved on from Mardan. By the blessing of Allah (SWT), on the outskirts of the city, they found a generous but poor old man. He offered his one-room house to them for the sake of Allah (SWT). Subsequently, twenty-four people stayed in one room for about two weeks! It was extremely difficult but it was better than living outdoors in the torrid summer heat.

Finding Camp

Iqbal and his brother would scout the surrounding area everyday for a better place to stay. During the second week of June, they were blessed by Allah (SWT) when they found an encampment being constructed. Within a day or two, the extended family of twenty four was able to move into tents on the allocated ground. This camp is the location, where I visited with, and interviewed Iqbal Husain. And it is also the place where Iqbal’s extended family continues to live.

When I asked Iqbal how he was coping with his current situation, he expressed his gratitude for the workers of Helping Hand, the organization that had set up the tents. The tents are approximately 8ft. by 15ft. (120 sqft or 11 m^3) each, and every 4 tents are surrounded by a 90ft. by 35ft. enclosure (3150 sqft or 300 m^3). Iqbal’s extended family occupies all four tents in an enclosure which has been constructed so that women can easily observe Pardah. The provided kitchen consists of a one-foot high cement slab, and a couple of pots and pans for four families. Outside each enclosure there are three bathroom stalls and three shower stalls for 5 families. The bathrooms simply consist of 3 walls, a door and a drainage system.

The accommodations are no doubt meager but they are much better than what many others have. Some unfortunate refugees are living in overcrowded bedrooms, others in old and dirty tents and others in old, unused schools and colleges. I asked Iqbal what problems he still faced. He repeatedly said that the heat was bothering everyone since Swat is located in a cold region where the inhabitants are not used to high temperatures. Though the tents have electricity, they do not have fans and the heat becomes unbearable in Mardan, especially during the day,. At night, he said, the temperature becomes bearable, but mosquitoes swarm around his children and he has no means to keep them out of his tent.

As for his finances, Iqbal said that his savings (which had consisted chiefly of his monthly salary) are almost all used up. Though he doesn’t have to pay rent, and every family is provided with wheat, sugar, salt, pulses, oil, and tea, (the standard monthly ration from the World Food Program), he has other expenses to deal with. His family of 7 was provided with 1 tent, 3 mattresses, 3 pillows, 1 utensil set, 1 water cooler, 1 hygiene kit, and one 2kg gas burner. His children still need new shoes after their long journey and he still has to buy milk and vegetables for his family daily. Other than that, his major needs consist of buying appropriate clothes to withstand the sweltering heat and crockery to cook their food.

The Millions…

Different organizations have accommodated people in various types of camps. Some are provided by the government but most are the work of various local organizations. Some of the camps I came across were in almost horrific conditions. I asked Iqbal about the current situation in Swat and he said that a curfew is ongoing in the area for more than a month. About 20% of the population is still stuck in the region while 80% are refugees. Since he has returned inflation has increased to 300%. When I asked Iqbal when he thinks he will go back home, he said that he is planning to return a 5-6 days before Ramadan.

And More…

The local community has done all they could to help their brothers and sisters in Islam and now they are exhausted. It remains the responsibility of the international Muslim community to pitch in. There are hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes and in need of proper attention. The World Food Program provides monthly rations but the amount lasts for 10-15 days depending upon the size of the family. A family of 12 would receive the same amount of food as a family of 3.  Those people who have given shelter to refugees in their homes can no longer cope with their added burden and some of them are starting to turn people out of their homes. In other words, a large portion of the 84% (host family category) of the IDPs will soon be living once again in the open air if proper facilities are not given to them.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

How can you help? My trip to Mardan was financed by Helping Hand, a non-governmental organization based in the US. You can donate online at www.helpinghandonline.org. I also witnessed the collaboration of other organizations in providing facilities to the IDPs such as Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid.

Allah (SWT) says in Surah Baqarah, what means:

“The likeness of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn): it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to who He wills. And Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.”(2:261)

I urgently ask you to support our brothers and sisters in Pakistan in NWFP in any way possible.


swat idp

*Account was slightly edited for language, while preserving the meaning. -MM
*The photo above was selected for MM’s Islamic Art showcase 7/25

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Ameera

    August 12, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    I feel ashamed I’m not doing anything to help the IDPs in my own country. I’m living in Karachi too but somehow, we all get stuck in this rut that we never think beyond ourselves. We complain about electricity outages, rain water floodings the streets and bringing life to a halt in the city, corruption and law-and-order breakdowns all the time. Sometimes, I wonder whether, despite all those troubles we face from day to say that test the limits of our sanity, we still need to shoulder some responsbility and not forget the people who are refugees in their own country. Would we be let off for saying we had problems of our own?

    Then, there is also the fact that money going into government accounts, even for support purposes, has a dubious outcome – where does it go? The air in Pakistan in thick with rumors (and reasonable, fact-based rumors) about all sorts of scams that the government officials are conducting, stockpiling on money and resources because they’ve given up on Pakistan. On the ground, you’ll see hardly any institution working at even 50% efficiency, forget the corruption that is rife in the society. On top of everything, a corrupt and despicable person sits on the President’s chair, full of lies and deceit… having direct access to all the treasures of this country, public and even private (through coercion and harrassment).

    So what am I saying here? Is it an opportunity to rant. No, here’s my point:

    – Even if you’ve donated before and are on a tight budget yourself, give something – old clothes, anything – in the Way of Allah.

    – Do not donate directly to the Pakistani government but to credible NGOs whose money is obviously going to the deserving people.

  2. MR

    August 12, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    In Bunair, they found a ride to Mardan for Rs. 300 per person which was more than three times the normal fare. All in all, the short ride to Mardan cost his family a fortune but they had no choice but to pay the asking price.

    Can someone please tell me this is a secluded scenario and that most of the drivers are following in the footsteps of the Beloved of Allah (sallahualyhwasalam) and they offer a reduced pricing for our brothers and sisters who are IDPs?!

  3. MR

    August 12, 2009 at 10:59 AM

    Islamic Relief USA account:

    http://blog.irw.org/2009/08/diary-entry-from-usa-staff-in-pakistan.html

    USA staff member, Anwar Ahmed Khan, has arrived in Pakistan to assess the IDP situation left from the recent conflict in NWFP.

    Wednesday, August 5

    I traveled today from Lahore to Islamabad. It is hot and humid. There are electricity blackouts every other hour in Lahore and every few hours in Islamabad, the capital. It becomes difficult in temperatures over 100 F; remember, these are the better off areas.

    I received the security clearance today to travel to Mardan. It is 1.5 hours away, but many cars have been attacked in the last few months. IRUSA sent a delegation a few weeks ago that was unable to visit our Mercy Centers.

    The purpose of my trip is to assess our work in NWFP and what we in the U.S. can do to assist those in need. As the fighting subsides, some of the displaced people are returning home and on this trip we are hoping to assess what is the best way to help them.

    We have been told to wear local tunics, shalwar kameez and not wear any IR logos until we arrive in our centers. Some of our staff have received death threats.

    I met the head of programs last night. He has not slept for 2 days, writing grant requests for the UN and others. He is very passionate about the week and wishes we could do more. They need more cash and experienced local staff.

    Posted by Islamic Relief USA at Thursday, August 06, 2009

    http://blog.irw.org/2009/08/diary-entry-from-usa-staff-in-pakistan.html

  4. MR

    August 12, 2009 at 11:00 AM

    More from Islamic Relief USA:

    http://blog.irw.org/2009/08/latest-entry-from-usa-staff-in-pakistan.html

    Islamic Relief USA team member Anwar Khan is in the Pakistan conflict zone visiting IDPs and affected communities. He met children that Islamic Relief is helping at the Mardan Mercy Center, and he was very impressed but feels there is more work to be done. He sent his reflections for you to read.

    August 6.

    We were up at 5 am to start the journey at 6 am. Using the toll way it took one-and-a-half hours to travel 100 M to Mardan, but then it took 1 hour to travel 24 M to the village of Qaderabad using rural roads in a 4 wheel drive.

    It was amazing to see 350 children at the Islamic Relief Mercy Center in Qaderabad. The majority were girls which is a good sign in this area. They were engaged in structured creative play which helps them deal with the problems that many of them are suffering from. They spend the morning and late afternoon there, leaving in the early afternoon when temperatures reach 110 degrees F with no electricity to power a fan.

    We saw some of the boys engaged in ‘manipulative play therapy’ in which they play with building blocks and puzzles to fix problems. This helps in their problem solving skills and gives us an insight into their state of mind. I was impressed by the complexity of Gharan and Haroon’s blocksuntil I was told what they had built. Eleven-year-old Ghafran had built a helicopter gunship and 7-year-old Haroon a rocket launcher. This shows that the conflict is still fresh on their minds and their psychologists still have significant work to do with them. They are suffering from acute trauma now and if untreated could suffer from severe trauma in six months. In a few years, if we do not look after these boys they may be operating rocket launchers.

    I spoke to some of the gils who were engaged in role-play therapy with dolls. When I asked 9-year-old Zaiby why she liked playing with these new dolls she replied, “because they are so pretty.” When I asked what her dolls at home looked like she replied she had none. They don’t have toys, but have fear of violence. This is not a situation we would want for our sons and daughters.

    The trip to the Mercy Center was exhilarating knowing that the children had a sanctuary to go to. But it was depressing knowing the misery and poverty of their daily lives.

    We then proceeded to the rural health clinic in Rustam. It is the only health facility in the area. Islamic Relief is supporting the clinic and has a Mercy center attached to service the IDps and host communities. Since the crisis began in May, the local population had to host double their capacity. Every morning, every house would bring food to the mosque, which would then be distributed to each house in need.

    The power was on for 2 hours, then off for 2 hours in Rustam. We were there during midday when the temperature reached 108 degrees F. I have never perspired so much in my life. One of the locals told me the heat is a reminder of the heat of hell. The locals do not have AC, and only a few have fans, but even power is hard to come by. Imagine how the elderly and the very young (who are most at risk) are coping. The generator in the hospital was not working because they needed $125 for the battery. It didn’t make a difference to have the medical equipment, because the rural hospital serving nearly 30,000 people has no electrical medical equipment.

    We were told one of the biggest problems are the lack of female doctors. Many women will not get treatment unless they see a female doctor. This may result in death if there disease is not treated in time. The problem is finding female doctors to work in rural areas, even if they are paid more. This is a long term problem. It’s a reminder that we can not always write a check to fix every problem.

    Posted by Islamic Relief USA at Friday, August 07, 2009

    http://blog.irw.org/2009/08/latest-entry-from-usa-staff-in-pakistan.html

  5. PakistaniMD

    August 12, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    Sad indeed. I pray and hope they find their problems washed away. From what I know, most are slowly returning back to the valley. They going to need more support over there then in the camps.

  6. kul

    August 12, 2009 at 11:33 PM

    Very sad after reading the article. Here in Maldives, we live a very peaceful life by the grace of Allah. I can collect lots and lots of clothes, shoes and other necessary items but the question is how to deliver them, or who would assist me to deliver them to the IDP’s. I would be very much appreciated if someone can find some way to deliver them from here to Pakistan. Also I would be happy to donate to helping hand some of my savings.

    May Allah bestow His mercy upon those afflicted . Amen.

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