Pakistan has begun repatriation of nearly two million people who fled fighting between the army and Taliban militants that broke out two months ago in the Malakand Division, including the troubled Swat District. Pakistani officials say in a first phase refugees at the Jalozai and Charsada camps are being sent back to their homes. Pakistan estimates $2.6 billion will be needed for the entire reconstruction and rehabilitation process.
Amid fears and uncertainty about living conditions in their war-hit towns, about 200 families left on trucks and buses from the Jalozai and Charsada camps near Peshawar.
While most of the returnees appeared excited and happy, some are refusing to go back because they say they have not received essential food items and the financial assistance (of about $300) the government has promised them.
A top official overseeing the repatriation process at the Jalozai camp, Tahir Orakzai, says displaced people are going back voluntarily and a proper system is in place to give them required assistance.
"We are giving ration [food plus money] to those who have been verified [by the authorities]," said Orakzai. "And those who are left out we have given them assurance that they will be provided rations when they reach at their home stations."
Most of the families uprooted by the anti-Taliban Pakistani offensive moved in with relatives or friends in cities and towns in the North-West Frontier Province. But nearly 300,000 ended up in poorly equipped temporary camps. Officials say that in the first stage the repatriation process is focusing on these families.
Addressing a gathering of international and local aid agencies as well as representatives of donor countries in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani described the anti-Taliban military offensive as successful, and he promised displaced families will be given full protection as they return to their homes. He said Pakistan will need $2.6 billion for the re-construction and re-habilitation of the displaced families.
"Getting on with their lives on arrival and rebuilding their livelihoods on a sustainable basis is now the most daunting challenge confronting all of us, while ensuring a peaceful and secure environment for this to proceed peacefully," said Mr. Gilani.
The United Nations says it has received $230 million in response to a $543 million emergency aid appeal it launched in May to deal with the humanitarian crisis. Top U.N officials also have emphasized the Pakistani government must ensure appropriate living conditions and security are in place for the returning families.
Military officials say the anti-Taliban offensive launched in late April in Swat and several neighboring districts has flushed militants out of these areas. They claim to have killed more than 1,700 extremists in the fighting and have confirmed the loss of more than 170 soldiers. But Pakistani officials have not reported killings of any of the top militant leaders in the region, raising fears among returning families the fighters could re-group.