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July 3 2009

Humanitarian help from the Communities of Sant'Egidio of Pakistan to refugees in the Swat valley, at the border with Afghanistan

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In the North-West of Pakistan, in the Swat valley, at the border with Afghanistan, there is currently a serious humanitarian crisis: actually more than two millions are the refugees because of the war that in the last months affected the area.  

Along the border between the two states, for a long time clashes have occurred for the control of the territory. Since the month of May, the fights between governmental army and local militias have intensified, pushing the civil population to a mass exodus.

The people, taken between two fires, escaped from the places where they lived, without being able to carry anything with themselves. For this reason, close to the capital Islamabad (that is just a hundred kilometers far from the area of the fights) huge tent cities were formed.

The refugees are in conditions of serious poverty and there are severe hygienic problems: water, particularly drinkable one, is meager, the supply of electricity insufficient and inconsistent, while the temperature in this period reaches 45 C°.

The Community of Sant'Egidio of Islamabad put in action a plan of help for a refugee camp North of Peshawar: 250 tents that welcome about 2000 persons.

The tent city was chosen for its small dimensions and for the fact that a lot of its residents had just arrived, after a hasty escape from their actual residences. It was not easy to reach it: no humanitarian organization was present in the camp, as the whole area is prohibited to foreigners. Therefore it showed especially precious the fact that the Community, in Pakistan like in other Countries, is rooted in the territory and is composed of local people. The first contacts were meant to meet all of the familiar units present, to listen to their sufferings and their dramatic witnesses, and to identify the most urgent needs.

From the visits, repeated at short-term intervals, emerged that the refugees had not been able to transport simple objects but indispensable for the daily life, like dishes or the can for drinkable water. The Community supplied them immediately. Other help was very appreciated too, as food, soap, milk and vitaminic fruit juices for children and elderly, especially exposed to the risk of dehydration, because of the high temperatures in this season.

The distribution of these first necessity goods involved all the families of the refugee camp, even if we chose to give priority to the last arrived, who fled practically without anything.

The groups of Sant'Egidio of Islamabad went tent by tent, talking with everyone; a personal approach that helped not only to understand the real needs, but above all to overcome the inevitable tensions in a situation of forced cohabitation between different groups.

Particularly, the women of the Community contributed to overcome the initial distrust of the most traditional families, talking freely with the girls and the elderly inside their shelters. The fear and the trauma due to the escape was gradually replaced by the amazement and the gratitude for these new friends, who came to help those who fell suddenly in difficulty.

Beyond the concrete help to get over the material difficulty, it was in fact important the witness of the youth of the Community who, belonging to the Christian minority, have committed to a faithful friendship with those who suffer for the violence of the clashes and hope to be able to return to normality.

The Community of Sant'Egidio in Pakistan, besides, is especially attentive to the problems and to the conditions of children. They organize six Schools of Peace in different towns of the Country. Also the children present in the camp were gathered to play and to sing together. Nourishing afternoon snacks with vitamin cookies and drinks help to open themselves and to smile again.


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