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Pakistan Refugee Crisis Growing

(UNHCR Photo)
"The situation is volatile," John Holmes, under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said Monday at the United Nations, after U.N. High Commissioner Antonio Guterres returned from a three-day visit to Pakistan, including refugee camps in Peshawar.

In just over two weeks, the total number of displaced Pakistanis is now over 2 million – most of whom have fled the fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistani military since May 2. The number of displaced is so large, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says, that it has forced more people out of their homes since the Rwanda crisis almost 20 years ago.

The most recent fighting has caused a surge in the exodus, Holmes said, with the number of people fleeing since early May reaching more than 1.4 million.

Most of the refugees are fleeing the fighting caused by a recent offensive in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad. The Pakistan military has urged civilians to leave. After a three-day visit to the refugee camps, Guterres said that the UNHCR is struggling to keep up with the speed of the displacement. "It's like trying to catch something that's moving ahead of us because the number of people on the move every day is so big and the response is never enough," he said before leaving for Geneva on Sunday. And the relief agency brought additional relief supplied by air from a stockpile in Dubai, including mosquito nets, sheets for emergency shelters and plastic rolls to build walls for the camps, but he is appealing for more aid.

The appeal for aid, Holmes said at the U.N. on Monday, is to provide shelter for the refugees for the next 12 months. Internal support for the fight against the Taliban is increasing but, clearly, the end of the fighting – and the refugee crisis -- are not yet in sight.

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