Last Updated: Monday, 24 November 2014, 16:50 GMT

Pakistan: Trauma follows IDPs to camps

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 10 November 2010
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Pakistan: Trauma follows IDPs to camps, 10 November 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4cdd263f26.html [accessed 24 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

PESHAWAR/HANGU, 10 November 2010 (IRIN) - Two teenage girls peek out from a tent at the Muhammad Khwaja camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the town of Hangu, northwestern Pakistan, before quickly ducking back inside. Like many girls and women based at camps, tradition means they must remain within the shelter much of the day.

Times have been hard for everyone at the camp recently. "The rain that poured down here early in August flooded our tent - but we just tried to manage. Our home in the Orakzai Agency is damaged and we cannot go back," Saif Ullah, 40, told IRIN. He said "many" tents were uprooted by the rain and wind.

Life at camps is especially tough on women.

"I remain cooped up, inside this bit of canvas, almost all day, with four children who have little to do. I do not like to go out as there are many men about. My 10-year-old son escorts me and my daughters to the bathroom - and we try to avoid going till it is dark so we have some privacy and men do not see us stepping into the bathroom. I sometimes stop my teenage daughter from drinking water so she can avoid urinating till dusk," said Kainat Bibi, 40, at the camp.

She complained of stifling heat inside the tent over the summer and now cold as winter draws in, but said: "As women we are accustomed to staying within our homes, even if it is as miserable as this one."

In her own home, in the Orakzai Agency along the border with Afghanistan, Kainat used to spend hours in her courtyard tending the animals, preparing food or chatting with female neighbours.

At the Jalozai Camp in Nowshera, near Peshawar, capital of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province (formerly North West Frontier Province), Jehanzeb Khan, 35, from the Bajaur tribal agency, told IRIN he sends his children to queue up for food because it is so demeaning to collect handouts. "I have tried to find work here, and I am an experienced carpenter, but no one gives us work as they believe we are all militants," he said.

"Most of the people at Jalozai are IDPs displaced by conflict. After the rains and floods we gave them some extra assistance," Arianne Rummery, a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, told IRIN.

People at the camp say flooding added to their miseries. "The tents stood in mud, bedding was wet and even now children are sick. We wonder when our miseries will end," said Lal Khan, 50. He and his family have been displaced from the Bajaur Agency since early 2009.

According to a 4 August update by the World Health Organization (WHO), "in Jalozai IDP camp, health staff conducted 1,096 consultations. Of these, 93 were for acute diarrhoea without dehydration." The WHO also reported cases of supected watery diarrhoea in September at Jalozai, but noted an overall reduction in cases.

"The people of the tribal areas have a strong bond with their land and traditions. Moving away from their homes along with women and children is very traumatic for them," said Nilofer Qazi, a clinical psychologist at the Shafiq Psychiatric Hospital in Peshawar.

"Indignities" of displacement

Qazi told IRIN most of those coming to her "suffered severe depression", something she attributed also to the experience of "standing in queues to get food" and the other "indignities" of displacement. She said the consciousness of people from the conflict zone about their self-respect and their "very sensitive nature" made it harder for them to cope with displacement.

"We are not accustomed to being dependent on others. Now we have no choice but to accept whatever is dished out to us," said Wali Muhammad Khan, from Bajaur Agency. He told IRIN his mother, "who had never before left our village" had for "over a month" virtually stopped talking after moving into the Jalozai Camp and then to a relative's home.

The experience of being without a home, and forced to live with strangers, was especially painful for a woman who for 70 years had only rarely left her home. "We took her to a doctor who said she was severely depressed, so now she is receiving medicines for that," he said.

Life in the IDP camps in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province is especially hard on the elderly, unused to anything but life that had for decades remained unchanged.

"My father, who is in his late 70s, was just unable to adjust to life at the camp we went to in Kohat. He missed his companions back home, even the landscape, and said we should never have left the place where our ancestors are buried. He was very distressed, but is slightly better since we moved in with a cousin here in Hangu," said Farzad Khan Manikhel, 25.

Muhammad Shafiq, a psychiatrist at Peshawar's Khyber Medical College, told IRIN "the majority of my patients from tribal areas are adult men and older people. The tribal people are used to certain customs, traditions and a peculiar life-style. It is really hard for them to change their habits at this age."

Despondent

"My father and my mother almost had to be dragged from our home in our village. We had decided months ago not to leave, but we had no choice after the death of 72 people when the military bombed Sra Vela village early in April. We feared more of us could die," said Farzad Khan.

There has been limited study of trauma in conflict-affected areas, where the military has been fighting Taliban militants since 2009. Qazi said the problem also is that most affected people do not see a healthcare professional but "prefer to go to a chemist's and buy some tranquilizers or sleeping pills". There has been even less research on the emotional or psychological suffering of people living in camps.

"It is terrible just sitting around all day, or answering questions from government officials who want to register us and treat us like animals. They are annoyed if we don't have identity cards, but who can think of taking these from homes that are burning down as bombs fall and leave you wondering when we will die," said Hakim Khan, 25, at Jalozai. He fled the Khyber Agency with his family early this year.

Psychiatrist Riaz Shabbir said the situation was serious and needed to be urgently rectified. "The death of civilians is causing great despondency and dejection among them," he said. "This can have very serious consequences, leading even to suicide."

Click here for In-depth: Coping with crisis

Theme (s): Gender Issues, Health & Nutrition, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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