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Displaced Tribespeople Reluctant To Leave Government Schools

Internally displaced refugees queue for aid at the entrance of a food distribution center in Bannu. (file photo)
Internally displaced refugees queue for aid at the entrance of a food distribution center in Bannu. (file photo)

BANNU, Pakistan -- More than 70,000 displaced tribespeople are reluctant to leave temporary shelters set up in school buildings after a government offensive forced them to flee their homes in northwestern Pakistan this summer.

Authorities have ordered thousands of families to evacuate more than 1,500 schools before the beginning of the new school year on September 1.

But thousands of displaced families from the North Waziristan tribal district are reluctant to leave school buildings in the nearby districts of Bannu and Lakki Marwat because of high rents and a lack of government aid.

Laiq Hussain, a displaced resident of North Waziristan, has been living in a Bannu school for more than two months. He told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal he and his family want to leave the school, but renting suitable accommodation seems impossible.

"Most landlords ask us for impossibly high rents and deposits. There is no way we can afford that much money," he said. "I feel very bad for the children, whose education will suffer, but we have no options."

Mir Qabil Khan, his wife, and their children have been living in a Bannu school since fleeing their North Waziristan village in June. They too find it impossible to secure affordable housing.

"The government needs to show some patience and compassion. They need to give us more time to look for a house or provide us with tents to live in,” said Khan.

The displaced people say even for a one-room mud house, landlords are demanding nearly 50,000 rupees ($500) in advance and up to 10,000 rupees ($100) in monthly rent.

Hussain and Khan are among the roughly one million internally displaced people who fled their homes in North Waziristan after the Pakistani military launched a major offensive against the Taliban and allied militant networks in mid-June.

Most of the displaced tribespeople live in rented homes or have moved in with relatives in Bannu, Lakki Marwat, and other towns and cities in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but thousands of families have also moved into school buildings vacant during the summer holiday.

Muhammad Qasim, the principal of a school in Bannu, says government aid for the displaced people is needed urgently so that tens of thousands of students in the region can return to school.

"The government needs to initiate a major project to build temporary accommodation for the North Waziristan residents," he said. "This new accommodation must have toilets and kitchens to offer livable conditions."

Government aid officials are now offering free tents to those living in the schools to motivate them to vacate the school property. Some officials reported they are considering cash handouts to enable the displaced families to rent houses.

A recent government report revealed that more than 80 percent of the schools in Bannu are currently occupied by displaced families.

The report noted that only 5 percent of the families have a source of income that would enable them to pay rent.

More than 98 percent of all the displaced children from North Waziristan have not returned to school after having fled their homes this summer.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story in Prague based on reporting by Umar Daraz Wazir from Bannu, Pakistan.