CHOTA LAHORE (Swabi) -- Over 2 million people were forced to flee their homes because of the fighting between government forces and the Taliban. Now, in stages, the government has started organising returns for all those who want to go back. WFP is providing rations for those who decide to go.
Outside the WFP’s distribution centre in the Chota Lahore camp, the crowds are keen. They wave their forms of voluntary return. They want to go home, and they want to go now. And they want their monthly rations to see them on their way. Amongst the people I spoke to there was a feeling of cautious relief to be leaving the hot and arid camps.
Loading up belongings
“I’m not happy here,” Zeenat tells me, peeking through her scarf as she sat on the bus, waiting to go with her family. Her husband is loading up their belongings, her children sit with her. “Barikot is my home. I want to go there, it’s safe, my neighbours are there, it’s good to go back.”
Zeenat’s husband has collected their rations for the next month and they are among the things he is loading onto the bus. She said the rations are crucial as they don’t know what they will find when they get home. “It’s important we have rations, because there is nothing there, so we have to take food with us.”
The scene outside the distribution centre, as families go through the formalities before departure, is one of frantic activity. For these people it’s a moment they’ve longed for.
"Rations are vital"
Overall, the returns process is going to be slow. Many of those displaced remain concerned about safety and are choosing not to return. They want to wait and see. For few that have decided to return the future is uncertain.
On another bus, Bakhati Zaid Khan had collected his family for their journey back. He echoes Zeenat’s comments. “It’s very important to take rations back because the bazaars are closed, no businesses are open so the rations are vital.”
WFP is also setting up humanitarian hubs in the areas of return (Read story). So far the returns are a tiny fraction of the number of displaced, until security is assured, it seems there is a general reluctance to step into the unknown.