Pakistan's Refugee Situation Getting Worse In Pakistan, the number of refugees fleeing the fighting has swollen to a staggering amount. That presents a huge problem not only for Pakistan but also for the relief agencies that are trying to deal with the exodus. Killian Kleinschmidt, the deputy head of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in Islamabad, talks with Steve Inskeep about the refugee situation.
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Pakistan's Refugee Situation Getting Worse

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Pakistan's Refugee Situation Getting Worse

Pakistan's Refugee Situation Getting Worse

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The number of refugees in Pakistan keeps growing. United Nations officials are putting the number at one and a half million people this month. They are fleeing the region where Pakistan's army is trying to put down the Taliban. The people dealing with the exodus include Killian Kleinschmidt, who is the deputy head of the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. He's in Islamabad.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. KILLIAN KLEINSCHMIDT (Deputy head, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): Yes, good morning.

INSKEEP: What are you seeing in the camps as well as other places where people have been fleeing to - private homes?

Mr. KLEINSCHMIDT: Well, fortunately, again, most of the people have been fleeing to private homes. The level of solidarity is enormous. And so more than 90 percent of this new wave of refugees - internally displaced people - is actually accommodated privately. That's why we do not have a disaster.

On the other hand, we have organized camps. There's now - the official figure stands at eight organized new camps, besides the 11 camps we had already in the past. More than 240,000 people in camps right now.

And then we have what we don't like so much, because it's more difficult to get under control and managed and assisted properly. These are spontaneous camps. These are schools, little buildings, which are made available or just being squatted. There's about 120 we have counted so far. And that is a challenge. That is actually quite difficult to deal with.

INSKEEP: Whether they're in an unofficial camp, an official camp or in somebody's home, are one and a half million people being fed and taken care of ok?

Mr. KLEINSCHMIDT: Well, I mean, in camps - in the official camps, for sure they're being taken care of. I mean, we have already within three days we have schools running in some of the camps. We have, of course, water, food, cooked meals initially and now we're moving to dry rations.

People outside of camps depend and rely for the moment mostly on the solidarity of the people. The solidarity is the best emergency response we have seen ever. I have never seen something like that before.

INSKEEP: You do talk about the solidarity of the people, which sounds reassuring. But there are reports that some of the aid to refugees is actually coming from militant groups. Do you believe that's happening?

Mr. KLEINSCHMIDT: Well, there were similar issues during the earthquake, which was also an enormous disaster in Pakistan in 2005. We have not seen evidence of this. For sure the organized camps there may be groups which may be affiliated. Again, we do not cross our way, so in this sense we cannot confirm or we cannot say it's untrue. But it could be possible.

INSKEEP: And one other thing, Mr. Kleinschmidt, when you talk about a million and a half people being forced to move from a combat situation, one of the things that you wonder about is the stability of the society, either in the place where they're fleeing from or the place where they're fleeing to. Are these refugees adding to instability in that area of Pakistan?

Mr. KLEINSCHMIDT: For sure it is contributing to an already very difficult situation. There's poverty. And as we like to say, there's poor people coming into a poor region with other poor people. And poor plus poor is very poor. And so, for sure, there are big issues. Already last year there was a high level of food insecurity. So this is potentially very dangerous.

That's why we keep on saying we need to assist as many people as possible now. And we have to go fast beyond the blankets and the tents for the displaced people themselves. We have to go and work with the communities - with the whole community rather than just the victims, the direct victims.

INSKEEP: Killian Kleinschmidt of the United Nations. He's in Islamabad.

Thanks very much.

Mr. KLEINSCHMIDT: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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