A snapshot of life in Pakistan's refugee camps | Connect Asia

A snapshot of life in Pakistan's refugee camps

A snapshot of life in Pakistan's refugee camps

Updated 18 January 2012, 19:45 AEDT

Although the fighting in Pakistan's Swat valley has ended and some refugees have started to head home, many remain wary of returning.

An estimated 2 million fled the conflict between Pakistani troops and the Taliban, and some ended up at a displaced person camp two hours north of the capital Islamabad.

Presenter: Mustafa Qadri

Purmanari, displaced person; Mohammad Yahya, a former town mayor; Ziauddin Yousufzai, School teacher; Mannu, school student

(Sound of camp)

QADRI: At a camp in Risalpur, 80 kilometres south of the fiercest fighting, displaced people live rudimentary lives in cramp dwellings without running water or electricity.

This is Mohammad Yahya, a former mayor whose town was engulfed by the conflict.

YAHYA (translated): We travelled by foot from Mingora to Kokkari, then we went to Sangar, some 14 to 15 kilometres.

QADRI: Entire communities fled through high mountainous terrain. Almost all were forced to travel on foot because public transport was either too dangerous or expensive.

Mohammad Yahya explains.

YAHYA (translated): "One night mortar shells exploded in our village. Everyone was so frightened they decided to flee their homes. The Army fires its mortars without warning".

QADRI: But being made homeless is only one of the effects of this war. Purmanari is a father of three.

PURMANARI (translated): I had a small rubber factory in Mingora ... This battle for Islam and the state being waged by the Army and the Taliban has made us homeless.

QADRI: The Taliban transformed the scenic Swat valley into a fortress. It was only recaptured after devastating Army bombardments that, locals and unofficial Army sources say, killed more civilians than militants.

Purmanari again.

PURMANARI (translated): We had everything, flowers, forests, factories... But everything has been devastated - our businesses, our communities... we have had to leave everything because of the Taliban and the Army. Both have destroyed everything.

QADRI: The displaced also harbour deep resentment towards the Taliban for claiming to wage war for Islam.

PURMANARI (translated): These Taliban people say they fight for the rule of Islam. They say there is no Islam in Swat. But what, are we not Muslim? That is why the Taliban spread propaganda saying there is no Islam here... so they can say we are bringing Islam.

QADRI: One of the ramifications of Taliban rule was that girls were banned from attending school. But many bravely defied these bans.

School teacher Ziauddin Yousufzai explains:

YOUSUFZAI: Islam teaches us that getting an education is compulsory for every girl, wife, for every woman and man. This is the teaching of the holy Prophet. I own Islam as much as it is owned by the Taliban. Why I should I be dictated [to] by the Taliban, why should I follow the Taliban model of Islam? The Holy Koran is my book as well. I have a right to act on it. I have not been told by Allah that you will follow the Taliban type of Islam. So that is why it's very clear and Islam allows me, Islam rather motivates me to give education to my children because education is a light and ignorance is a darkness. And we must go from darkness into light".

QADRI: The darkness seems to have engulfed Swat and, indeed, most of Pakistan's ethnic Pakhtun tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

One means through which people have tried to deal with the trauma of dislocation and war has been poetry. Here is Mannu, a young school student I met in the camps.


QADRI: "My sweet Swat has caught on fire," she sings "In every direction there is war. The people who laughed, who sang, are now silent. I pray to you God, bring back the paradise, the peaceful Swat I remember."

Hers is a sentiment echoed by many of those displaced. Former town mayor Mohammad Yahya again.

YAHYA (translated): "We'd go back today if you could but right there is no point. But, God willing, we will return. It is our homeland. It is like heaven to us".

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