PESHAWAR - The head of the UN refugee agency in Pakistan and the Minister of States and Frontier Regions visited Bajaur Agency, where international support is beginning to help displaced families to restart their lives.

UN refugee agency representative, Neill Wright and Engineer Shaukat Ullah Khan visited Rashakai, one of the villages in the agency where UNHCR’s implementing partner, the Norwegian Refugee Council, with funding from the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Commission and Norway, has built brick homes for some returnee families who had to leave their homes during the fighting which ended in April 2011.

In August 2008, a government security operation was launched in Bajaur in order to regain control of the area from militant groups. Some of the heaviest fighting took place around the village of Loesum, which the UNHCR Representative and the SAFRON minister also visited.

Loesum, which had a population of around 20,000 people before the conflict, remains almost entirely abandoned today. Many homes were bulldozed as part of the security operation. Some of the village residents continue to live in the Jalozai camp near Peshawar. Out of an estimated 70,000 families that sought safety away from the conflict, nearly eighty percent had been residents of Loesum.

As part of its compensation scheme for those affected by the fighting, the Federal Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) has identified more than 8,000 families for compensation payments of up to four hundred thousand rupees for those whose homes were destroyed. Two thousand of those payments have already been distributed. “For decades, communities in Loesum and elsewhere in Bajaur provided support and safety to tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who had fled fighting in their country,” said UNHCR’s representative. “Then they too were forced to leave their homes, and the government and the international community rallied to provide them with shelter and safety. Most have now returned home, but they continue to need our help to restore their basic needs.” In addition to the homes and water points that UNHCR has built in Bajaur, the agency is looking to identify additional projects under the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas initiative, which brings both development and humanitarian aid to communities, which hosted refugees.

“My message to the international community is that one year after the fighting ended in Bajaur, the safe access to address these urgent needs exists,” said Minister Shaukat Ullah. “The situation is improving and as we’ve seen some, like UNHCR, are coming forward to help. The rebuilding effort, though, will require more assistance.”