World Vision Shifts Focus as IDP Homecoming Gains Momentum in Pakistan

With more and more of northwest Pakistan's some two million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) returning home to their villages and homes, Global relief giant World Vision is emphasizing the need to ensure that the displaced are returning voluntarily and the need for sustained security and safety in areas of return.

On Monday, government officials in Pakistan had announced a three-phase plan to return home the 1.7 million people currently registered in government-run camps and the many citizens sheltered in private residences.

Last week, the Pakistani military said it had "eliminated" extremists in Swat Valley and the surrounding area but interviews with displaced citizens suggest that many have doubts about the safety of Swat Valley.

According to Edward Kibirige, World Vision's response manager for the IDP crisis, there has been reported nervousness regarding security from the IDPs going back to Swat.

"The army promised us twice before that they cleared the area, but then Taliban came again and again to Swat," shopkeeper Shamsher Ali, 55, told Agence France-Presse. "Perhaps this time the Taliban will come again to Swat."

Before making a decision to send the entire family, some families, according to Kibirige, have sent one or two male members to first scout out the situation in terms of security before making.

"Many people do not know the condition of their village or homes, yet the desire and willingness to return home is strong, depending on where people are from," the World Vision leader added.

In areas like Buner, it is believed that about 70 percent of the IDPs had already started making their way back by the time the government started its return process on July 13.

Based on a schedule of return drafted by the government, buses and trucks with escorted security vehicles are transporting families back to their mountain villages from both camps established for the displaced and from host communities, where the majority of IDPs sought refuge.

 "The government stresses that all returns are voluntary which has been one of the key issues for the humanitarian community," Kibirige reported.

With the return of IDPs picks up momentum, World Vision is now assessing the need to redirect its relief efforts in areas of return to ensure the immediate needs of families, particularly children, are met, as well as to address the longer-term issue of livelihood recovery.

So far, the relief and development agency has focused its resources on meeting the needs of IDPs in host communities, which have borne the burden of caring for thousands of people, often strangers.

Since the latest conflict between government forces and Taliban militants broke out, World Vision has been providing family kits, water purifiers and six-month cash support to particularly vulnerable families and has also been providing psychosocial support for children through two Child Friendly Spaces in Buner.

In addition to causing an unprecedented people movement, the recent conflict also destroyed homes, infrastructure and livelihoods when households had to abandon their fields during harvest, thus losing their produce.