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UN refugee agency concerned over displacement in Swat

The UN has voiced 'deep concern' at the plight of refugees who have been forced to flee the Swat valley.

With lakhs of people being displaced by Pakistan Army’s offensive against Taliban in NWFP province,the UN refugee chief has voiced “deep concern” at their plight as the agency stepped up its humanitarian assistance to the region.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said armed clashes between the Pakistani army and militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat district have sent thousands fleeing,including a large number of Afghan refugees in these areas.

“As part of the UN response,UNHCR is already sending humanitarian aid items to new camps that we are helping to set up in the Mardan and Swabi districts,” High Commissioner Antonio Guterres said.

The agency is assisting authorities to establish two new reception centres and two more are planned for newly displaced people on the main routes adjacent to the conflict zone. Guterres also expressed deep concern over the well-being of some 20,000 registered Afghan refugees affected by the conflict in the Buner,Lower Dir and Upper Dir regions. “We have reports that many have fled together with the local population. Some have chosen to return to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance and others have chosen to relocate to existing refugee sites in Pakistan,” he said.

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The number of people so far displaced by the recent escalation of fighting between government forces and militants in the North West Frontier Province is not yet clear. Over the past four days,UNHCR has helped authorities register nearly 45,000 people and to establish 12 registration points for people fleeing the area. Guterres once again appealed to all parties to respect humanitarian principles and to ensure protection and freedom of movement of civilians caught up in the conflict,as well as the safe passage of relief goods and humanitarian workers.

First published on: 07-05-2009 at 11:14 IST
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