UN calls for world to support new Pakistan appeal

The head of the UN refugee agency on Thursday urged the world to do far more to help Pakistan recover from catastrophic floods that hit millions, on the eve of a major new UN appeal.

“My hope is that the international community will understand the need and fully respond to the dramatic situation,” Antonio Guterres told AFP in Charsadda.

The United Nations is to launch a new appeal for funds in New York on Friday, although UN figures show that donors have met only about two-thirds of an initial appeal for 460 million dollars issued on August 11.

“All entities working in Pakistan, including the United Nations and government of Pakistan need much stronger support from the international community,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“If we see Pakistan’s generosity to Afghan refugees, I would say that the international community is not doing enough particularly in view of the level of devastation.”

Pakistan is home to 1.7 million Afghan refugees — 1.5 million of whom live in areas affected by the country’s worst humanitarian disaster, which has affected up to 21 million people overall and hit terrain the size of England.

In Charsadda, an AFP reporter saw some 200 men and women queuing up at a UNHCR distribution point to receive quilts, mats, buckets and soap.

“My house, crop and cattle were destroyed by floods. I cannot support my family without help now,” local resident Shamroz Khan told AFP.

People in the town have started rebuilding damaged houses, an AFP reporter said.

Guterres ruled out any forced repatriation of Afghans, saying the floods destroyed 16 Afghan refugee villages in Pakistan and that 15 will be rebuilt.

He visited Azakhel, the largest Afghan refugee camp that the floods destroyed. It had a population of 22,000 people, who lost everything.

“The government of Pakistan has guaranteed that despite this tragedy Pakistan will not force these refugees to go back to Afghanistan,” Guterres said after meeting elders from the devastated northwestern village.

“Some Afghan families wanted to go back and we will support their repatriation, but nobody will be forced to go back to Afghanistan.”

Guterres acknowledged there were “doubts” about Azakhel being rebuilt because of its “dangerous location” prone to future flooding.

“UNHCR will do everything to support the people if this Afghan refugee camp is to be relocated,” he said.

Village elders said their children wanted to return to Azakhel.

“We want to come back to the village. Our children want to come back because we have deep associations with it as we have been living here for the past 30 years,” village representative Sharaft Hussain told Guterres.