Washington, DC -- Refugees International (RI) expressed concern today over the Pakistani government’s announced plan to begin returns for thousands of displaced Pakistanis on July 13. The return plan is scheduled to last 14 days, with departure points set up in the Swabi and Mardan districts to bring people back to the Swat and Buner districts in the country’s North West Frontier Province. The government has announced that buses would be used to transport people, and that police escorts would be provided. It is unclear whether returning families would receive any further assistance from the government.
“The Pakistani government is sending people home far too early,” said Kristèle Younès senior advocate for Refugees International. “Displaced people should be the ones to determine whether it is safe for them to return, and we fear the government is not providing them with clear and accurate information.”
Only a small percentage of the displaced have so far returned home. The UN estimates that 21,500 displaced individuals from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), out of a total of 550,000, have gone back to their districts. The military reports that over 40,000 internally displaced people have returned to Buner since mid-June. However, there is no reliable information on how many have returned home permanently.
A Return Task Force, which was to be composed of government officials and humanitarian agencies, has been created to monitor and evaluate the sustainability of returns. Currently, the task force is comprised of government and military authorities, with United Nation officials participating by invitation of the government, without inclusion of civil society. The task force needs to communicate plans for people to return home clearly and develop a means to identify areas for durable and safe return.
“The army’s definition of cleared zones does not necessarily translate into safe zones for civilians,” said Patrick Duplat, advocate for Refugees International. “The military needs to ensure public safety rather than coordinate returns. Lack of aid money and ongoing military operations appear to be driving the government to return vulnerable people prematurely rather than planning in their best interests.”
The government has a poor track record in ensuring safe returns. Last fall, the government of Pakistan pressured the displaced from Bajaur agency to return home and thousands of families were displaced a second time with the resurgence of military operations in the area. Moreover, the government has put pressure on civil servants from Malakand division, including Swat, to return to their posts in preparation for large scale return or face dismissal.
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. Read their most recent field report, “Pakistan: Invisible People, Visible Consequences” at: http://www.refugeesinternational.org/policy/field-report/pakistan-invisible-people-visible-consequences 
Contact: Vanessa Parra, 202-904-0319