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Charities Ordered Out Of Pakistan Warn Thousands Will Lose Life-Saving Aid

FILE: Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Pakistanis depend on aid groups for essential services.
FILE: Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Pakistanis depend on aid groups for essential services.

International aid groups that have been ordered out of Pakistan say that hundreds of thousands of victims of violence and natural disasters might stop receiving life-saving assistance as a result of the move.

Pakistani authorities have ordered more than 20 global charities to wind up their operations within two months, including billionaire George Soros' Open Society Foundations and the ActionAid womens' charity, the aid groups and Interior Ministry officials said on December 14.

Open Society said the charities were given 90 days to appeal the orders, but it was "not clear how this process will be managed." The Soros group has provided $3 million for earthquake relief and $6 million for flood relief since 2005.

The Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, which represents foreign aid groups, says their work directly benefits about 29 million people in Pakistan.

Foreign aid groups contributed some $285 million in funding for development and emergency relief in 2016, and employ over 5,000 local staff, it said.

The government's latest move against charities appears to be part of a drive that began two years ago against such foreign-funded groups, citing suspicions that some of them were being used as fronts for spying by Western countries.

Already expelled last month was the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which was forced to close its last remaining facility in the tribal region along the Afghan border where the government has waged a bloody battle against extremist groups in recent years.

The doctors group warned that many victims of violence in the region would go without medical treatment as a result of the move.

"It will complicate the humanitarian situation for communities displaced by the war or marginalized by the social norms," Taimur Kamal, a rights activist in the city of Peshawar, told dpa.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people who depend on aid for shelter, food, health care, and sanitation," Kamal said, "and the funding comes from the groups being expelled."

Inayat Khan, an aid worker in the northern town of Mansehra where a deadly earthquake in 2005 displaced millions of people, echoed those concerns.

“I am not sure if the government alone can help people still needing assistance more than a decade after the earthquake," Khan, who works for a local group funded by a British charity, told dpa.

"Expelling groups behind the vital operation will not be appreciated," Khan said.

The Interior Ministry has not said how the government will manage humanitarian fallout from the expulsions.

Pakistan has adopted increasingly harsh restrictions on charities ever since it cited suspicions that the Save the Children charity ran a fake vaccination drive to help the U.S. CIA find out where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was living in 2011.

American Navy SEALs flew in on helicopters and killed bin Laden inside the compound where he had been hiding in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad after learning his whereabouts.

Save the Children denied the allegations, but a Pakistani doctor who Islamabad charges acted as a spy for the CIA while conducting a vaccination campaign remains in jail.

With reporting by AP and dpa

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