Thousands displaced by fighting in Kurram

Peshawar: A new Pakistan army offensive against militants in Kurram Agency in the northwest has sent thousands of people fleeing on trucks, vans, tractors and other vehicles; aid agencies are trying to map out a response.

“The operation has been launched to clear the area of terrorists involved in acts of terrorism, including kidnapping and killing of local people, suicide attacks and blocking the road that connects Lower Kurram with Upper Kurram,” military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told the media on 5 July.

Civilians were forced to flee conflict-hit areas along the tribal belt made up of seven agencies along the Pakistan-Afghan border after the operation began on 3 July. “I am waiting for news of my parents, grandparents and four siblings,” Faheem Ali, 24, who works as a pharmacist, told IRIN in Peshawar.

“They set out from our home in central Kurram on Monday [4 July] and are trying to join me here in Peshawar,” he added, saying he had failed to establish contact with them for over 14 hours and could only hope they “get here safely given the heavy firing that is taking place”.

“There is likely to be a displacement of at least 4,000 families and possibly double that number due to this latest fighting,” Arshad Khan, head of the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told IRIN.

Already, he added, 1,000 families – around 7,000 individuals – had been displaced since the operation started.

Aid agencies said they were preparing to help the newly displaced.

“We are working closely with the DMA in FATA and government authorities there, as we are not on the ground in Kurram,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

She said people displaced from Kurram were being accommodated at Durrani Camp, a former Afghan refugee camp, in the town of Sadda in Lower Kurram. Following a request from the DMA in FATA, the UNHCR has so far provided 700 tents and other non-food items for those displaced in Kurram.

The DMA in FATA says 250 families have reached the camp while others have moved in with relatives in various parts of Kurram or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The fresh displacements add to the 34,785 already displaced from Kurram.