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Calls for Int'l Support Persist as Pakistan Refugees Return to Swat Valley

Calls for Int'l Support Persist as Pakistan Refugees Return to Swat Valley

As Pakistani families begin to return to Swat Valley – where the government has for months been battling Taliban forces – aid groups are alerting the international community that continual support is needed for the millions of people still internally displaced.

"We know no one is more eager to bring this emergency to a close than those who fled the violence," Church World Service emergency response director Donna Derr said in a statement Tuesday.

But the number of people returning is "quite small," she said, and a humanitarian crisis continues across Pakistan.

Government officials in Pakistan announced Monday a three-phase plan to return internally displaced persons (IDPs) back to their homes in Swat Valley. About 1.7 million people are registered in government-run camps and many citizens are sheltered in private residences.

It is estimated that nearly two million people in total are displaced because of the fighting between the Taliban and the government in the northwest region.

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

"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."

On Monday, the first government-organized buses and trucks began to transport displaced families back to their homes. But some reports say only a few hundred people were seen boarding the buses, prompting criticism against the government for the slow process of returning people to Swat Valley.

Despite the progress in the Swat Valley IDP situation, CWS said it is still highly concerned about getting aid to those who remain displaced. The New York-headquartered organization noted that the situation is complicated because of the large number of people staying in private residences that also need food and medical assistance.

Medical care in Pakistan, CWS explained, is complicated by the fact that cultural tradition says it is not appropriate for male doctors to care for women or girls. As a result, the large number of women refugees are resistant to receiving medical attention from male doctors.

"The process of ensuring security and returning people home is going to take some time," response director Derr commented. "Until then it is up to all of us to help those caught in a situation far beyond their control."

Since 1954, CWS has operated in Pakistan, where it works with local partners to distribute the aid to displaced families. These local partners include Sungi Development Foundation, CHIP and SSEWA-Pak.

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