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Pakistan Swat Valley Crisis: Voices from the Field

  • August 24, 2009

Pakistan’s Swat Valley has been besieged by brutality since escalating Taliban violence brought about a full blown confrontation with Pakistan’s army last spring. Three million people were forced to flee their homes in the neighboring Peshawar Valley. Much of the fighting has recently subsided, but the refugee problem remains. Many families have returned only to find their homes destroyed, others still live in constant fear of the Taliban. Here is one refugee’s story as relayed by an AmeriCares relief worker in the field. Names have been changed to protect the family.

Salem and his family of 12, including his elderly mother, were forced to leave their home when the fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army escalated in May. They lived in a modest house in a small village on the outskirts of the main city in the Swat Valley.

Salem’s family withstood conflict and violence for over two years, but an unprovoked attack by the Taliban left them with no choice but to abandon their home.

Early one morning, Salem went to the market to buy milk for the family. He was waiting in line when a group of Taliban militants appeared and began savagely beating the shopkeeper. The militants then mistook Salem for the shop assistant and attacked him too. His pleas for mercy and explanations were ignored. 

Salem was left bruised, bleeding and nearly unconscious. Through a daze, he could hear their threats to return if the shopkeeper didn’t stop complaining about the Taliban.

Shortly after Salem made it home, the family fled for safety along with thousands of other families. The journey to Peshawar was very hard, especially for the elderly relatives. When they finally arrived at the house where they were supposed to stay, it was no longer available. They were told of another safe place, but just as they were ready to settle in, the owner demanded more money.

It was almost midnight and they asked if they could just stay the night, but the owner refused. The whole family had no choice but to stay on the porch of a friend’s small house. After a fearful night and another day of searching for shelter, they found a place to stay. Finally safe, they slept for nearly a day.

They lived in cramped quarters and had barely eaten anything but emergency food rations since May. Thankfully, Salem received care for his injuries and he eventually healed from his beating. Eventually, they were told by the government that it was safe to return home. One of the younger uncles went to scout their home to make sure it was secure. He found only 2 of their 8 rooms standing; 6 were completely destroyed by the bombings and fighting.

Despite the devastation, Salem and his family bravely resolved to return to rebuild their home and their lives.

AmeriCares is strengthening its commitment to helping refugee families like Salem’s. Following an emergency airlift of medical aid in May, we’re sending a new shipment of critically needed medicines, medical supplies and humanitarian aid. AmeriCares is working hard to ensure displaced families get the health care they need while their communities recover. Read more about AmeriCares latest shipment of aid to Pakistan.

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