“I want to go back home,” says a little girl named Amna, who has spent most of her life here in the IDP (internally displaced persons) Camp in Jalozai. Amna is six and a half years old and her family moved here four years ago, escaping military operations against terrorists in the Khyber Agency tribal area of Pakistan.
She doesn’t remember her village in Khyber, or any of those children or games that her elder siblings talk about all the time. But she has a fantasy of how things would be if she goes back home. Her idea of home is constructed by the stories and life that her older siblings and parents have shared with her.
She picks up two water buckets and starts walking, chuckling, spilling water on her way to her home where she now lives. It’s a tattered dusty tent with stitches here and there, reminding of the rain that tore the cloth tent in winter, seeping chilly wind inside. Amna shudders at the memory of the last winter. “We don’t have clothes that are warm enough,” she says. “And donations with sweaters or warm clothes have stopped coming in so we did not have enough to fight the monstrous cold this past winter.”
When the IDPs moved in here four years ago, there was an enthusiastic outpouring of donations, funding and supplies that came from across the country. From food to clothing and house utensils, the IDP community received significant help, but it then dwindled and gradually disappeared.
Amna works a few hours every day delivering water to different families in her camp neighborhood to make some money for her mother’s medicine. They have to go to a private hospital since the government facilities at the Jalozai camp are scarce and doctors are almost never available. Amna has vowed to bring more money to their family of seven, along with her other elder siblings – all of whom work. “Maybe if we have more money, we will one day go back and rebuild our home (in Khyber Agency).”
But achieving that dream won’t be easy. Their father was killed in the military operation before their own family was vacated from Khyber Agency and they moved to Jalozai. They later heard their home was destroyed by the army.
Amna’s elder siblings often talk about moving to Islamabad or Karachi where they could earn more for the same labor and be able to live a better life. But first they must save enough money to travel there.
Jalozai camp, is the largest refugee and IDP camp in Pakistan, situated in Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). It was originally established in 1980 for the refugees who fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion.
It was May 2008, however, when the camp became a center for IDPs from KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Pakistan has one of the largest IDP communities in the world, with 180,574 families who have been displaced from FATA alone due to militancy and conflict. According to estimates compiled this May by PDMA and UNHR, about 17,274 of these families now reside in Jalozai camp. A Pakistan Disaster Management Authority official confirmed that this figure represents 10 percent of the nation’s total IDP community.
“These displaced persons come from different agencies of FATA, including the Khyber Agency, Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand Agencies and most recently Tirah Valley,” Mr. Noman, an official representative of Jalozai Camp, told The Diplomat. “We provide food and supplies to every individual living in Jalozai camp and the government has been working very sincerely for the safety of these IDPs living here.”
Despite reassurances by authorities, there are hundreds of IDPs who have complained about the lack of supplies and food items in the camp. This is the core reason why most IDPs living in Jalozai try to find labor work. According to Ajmal Khan who works on a daily wage at a shop in the market between Peshawar and Jalozai: “The PDMA often does not provide us with food supplies and there have been many days when my whole family has gone hungry, including my pregnant wife. I have to work at the shop to buy my own wheat and floor.”
Security is also a concern in the camp that has yet to be sufficiently addressed by the authorities. The locals have been complaining for at least three years since they first observed traces of militants hiding in the camps. This March Jalozai saw its worst bomb attack amid a crowded line during Rashan assembly. On March 21, 2013, 15 people were killed and more than two dozen were injured in the blast, including women and children. Hakim Ullah was one of them and was admitted to the Lady Readings Hospital where he spent a month.
“The doctors at Lady Readings were very kind, but they could not save my leg,” he said. Hakim now limps on one leg and walks with crutches. As tears well in his red eyes, he added, “It is not the physical pain that upsets me. It is the questions that I ask myself every day that hurt me most. What have I done to deserve this?”
Kiran Nazish is a Pakistani-based columnist for The Pulse and a correspondent for LaStampa. Follow her on twitter @kirannazish.