Panicked refugees pour out of Pakistan’s troubled North Waziristan

admin   •   June 20, 2014   •   2505

Families sit in the back of a vehicle as they flee a military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban and enter Bannu January 21, 2014.

(Reuters) – Their belongings piled high on buses, rickety donkey carts and tractors, thousands of refugees poured out of Pakistan’s North Waziristan on Thursday, terrified by both state troops and Taliban insurgents fighting for control of the troubled region.

Pakistan announced the start of a full-on military offensive on Sunday to quash an increasingly assertive Taliban insurgency in the ethnic Pashtun region, the base of some of the country’s most feared al Qaeda-linked militants.

Troops have since encircled the mountainous region on the Afghan border and fighter jets have pounded villages and militant hideouts, sending a wave of panicked refugees spilling into the nearby region of Bannu, as well as Afghanistan.

For tens of thousands of people now massing in camps and private houses in Bannu, living under army control was as frightening a prospect as living in the Taliban’s shadow.

“Waziristan was our paradise but the Taliban and security forces turned it into a hell,” said Khair Mohammad, 48, a farmer who brought 20 members of his extended family to Bannu in a wagon pulled by a tractor.

“I didn’t want to leave but my children developed serious mental problems because of the bombings by fighter jets and heavy artillery shelling by security forces there.”

The Pakistani Taliban are deeply entrenched in the complex tribal patchwork of North Waziristan’s society, blending into the populace and hard to distinguish from ordinary residents.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government have tried to engage those they see as moderate Taliban in ceasefire talks but those efforts collapsed after a dramatic Taliban attack this month on Pakistan’s biggest airport in Karachi.

Some refugees said the most feared militants had disappeared overnight as soon as the operation was announced.

“It’s very strange that those Taliban considered as anti-state disappeared mysteriously, but security forces continued to conduct raids on our houses and harass innocent people,” said bank manager Wali Khan, 47.

“Why didn’t they come out of their walled (army) compounds when the Taliban fighters were still in the town?”

He said he and other refugees had enough time to pack only the essentials for their journey and no one could say when they might be able to return home.

Breaking into tears, Khan added: “If I could, I would have brought my cow and other cattle. We left them behind and it was like leaving children behind.”

Residents of the North Waziristan capital of Miranshah said more than two-thirds of families had left by Thursday, with some disappearing into the mountains.

Long queues stretched out of refugee centers where residents must register before leaving, as people waited for hours under the scorching sun. Women, some barefoot, used their head-to-toe burkas to shield children from the heat.

The Pakistani army has launched daily air strikes in North Waziristan but a full-scale ground offensive has yet to start.

It relaxed the day-long curfew on Wednesday to allow local residents to leave, triggering a sudden exodus into Bannu as well as Afghanistan’s province of Khost where officials said at least 10,000 refugees were now seeking shelter.

Officials in Bannu and nearby areas have registered ‎70,000 refugees, but the number is likely to rise as more people trickle out of North Waziristan.

The government has set up camps and refugee registration centers to control the flow, but some people said they would not use state facilities for fear of Taliban retribution.

“The Taliban have their informants everywhere, even at the registration centers and government departments,” said Abdul Wasey, 32, who described himself as a science student.

“That is why we would rather die than receive any help from the government.”

Others complained the government was doing too little.

“The government is treating us badly. We have done nothing. Those who were involved in militant activities have already fled,” Abdul Rehman, 50, a resident of Miranshah, told Reuters. “Why we are being punished for someone else’s crime?”

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Philippines to lift travel ban on 10 countries starting September 6

UNTV News   •   September 4, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to lift the current travel restrictions on travelers from 10 countries starting September 6, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced in a statement on Saturday.

These countries are namely:  India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Nonetheless, international travelers coming from the said countries shall comply with the appropriate entry, testing and quarantine protocols, depending on the country’s approved “listing,” Roque said.

He added that the IATF has adopted the “Yellow” and “Red” classifications, in addition to the “Green List” countries/jurisdictions/territories.

Roque said this is based on the countries’ respective incidence rates and case counts as primary criteria, and testing data as secondary criteria.  The incidence rate is the cumulative new cases over the past 28 days per 100,000 population while case counts are cumulative new cases over the past 28 days.

The government first imposed the travel restrictions on India in April then later expanded to include more countries to stem the spread of Delta variant, the highly transmissible strain of COVID-19.


Philippines to accept Afghan refugees only via gov’t-to-gov’t arrangement

Marje Pelayo   •   September 1, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines will accept asylum seekers from Afghanistan only under a government-to-government agreement.

He stressed, the Philippines will not entertain any request from private entities or non-government organizations.

“With the formal end of evacuations from Afghanistan, the next stage is processing and asylum—short or long stay. The Philippines will not accept nor listen to any proposition to accept any refugees unless it is government to government and only by their respective Foreign and Justice ministers; especially of the UK, the US and other Western countries most active in the evacuation,” Locsin said in a tweet on Monday (August 30).

“We will not entertain any request for asylum coming from NGOs however well-meaning or reputable or any other non-state parties,” he added.

Locsin emphasized that if ever the Philippines will open its doors to Afghan refugees, “it will be all humanitarian and not a bit monetarist.”

The Foreign Affairs secretary noted that there are only 24 Filipinos remaining in Kabul as of August 30, eight of them requesting repatriation while 16 others opted to stay.

As of Monday, a total of 187 Filipinos have been evacuated from Afghanista since the Taliban seized the nation’s capital.

78 Filipinos in Afghanistan awaiting repatriation

UNTV News   •   August 17, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan — A total of 78 overseas Filipinos in Afghanistan who availed of mandatory repatriation are still waiting for a chartered flight home to the Philippines, the president of a Filipino community organization there confirmed with UNTV on Tuesday (August 17).

According to Joseph Glenn Gumpal, president of the Samahang Pilipino sa Afghanistan, the Philippine government assured they will be boarding anytime.

“Ginawa ng Philippine government kumuha ng chartered (flight) sa Philippine Airlines through US forces kaya dito kami sa military base magbo-board,” he said.

Based on record, there are about 173 Filipinos in Afghanistan, 32 of whom had recently been repatriated.

Some of them fled to safer grounds while there are still others who are hesitant to leave.

“Kasi andito ang negosyo nila, particular iyong tinatawag naming free lancers. May mga negosyo sila rito. Iyong last count ko sa free lancers they were eight pero three yata iyong ayaw umuwi dahil ang iniisip nila the situation is already normal because ongoing na transition,” Gumpal noted.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) meanwhile assured repatriating Filipinos of cash assistance through its program “Abot Kamay sa Pagtulong” (AKAP).

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the cash aid is US$200, equivalent to P10,000.

Those who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic will also be assisted through the said program.

Upon arrival to the Philippines, those who are registered under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are qualified for the agency’s reintegration program which offers livelihood projects and scholarships.

“Mayroon tayong program iyong AKAP, iyong Abot Kamay sa Pagtulong’ sa mga OFW. Mayroon silang makukuhang cash assistance at pagdating dito, kung sila ay bonafide OWWA member ay mayroon silang mga program under doon sa National Reintegration Program ng OWWA for the OFWs,” Bello said. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo.)


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