Civilians are streaming out of Pakistan's Swat Valley as government troops continue their assault on Taliban militants there. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with United Nations official Ariane Rummery about how the UN's refugee agency is handling this massive displacement of people.
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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Pakistan's Swat Valley is now the stage for a full-scale military offensive. That's according to a Pakistani military spokesman today. He also said the army is out to eliminate Taliban militants in the region. The US government sees the offensive as a test of Pakistan's resolve against the Taliban. But there's also a humanitarian dimension to this story now. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are fleeing the violence in the Swat Valley. Ariane Rummery is with the United Nations refugee agency the UNHCR. Yesterday, she visited a camp for internally displaced Pakistanis. Today, she's speaking with us on the phone from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Ariane Rummery, what kind of numbers are we talking about with these people displaced by the fighting in the Swat Valley?
ARIANE RUMMERY: Well, the provincial government estimates that in recent days between 150 to 200,000 people have already arrived in the safer areas of northwest Pakistan. In addition to that, they think that another 300,000 people are already on the move or about to move.
WERMAN: So potentially we're talking over half a million people displaced by the fighting. Where are they all staying?
RUMMERY: Well, about 25 percent of them are in camps. But most of them have actually been staying among host communities, they're renting accommodations, they're staying with relatives. But as the conflict goes on and as it escalates, the capacity of those communities to absorb them will become even further strained.
WERMAN: Describe the conditions in some of those camps?
RUMMERY: The immediate priority is to provide shelter for as many people as possible, so we put up tents. As families arrive and they register at a camp, they get a family tent. Other agencies have put in toilets and water points. Other agencies provide food. The next priority was to put up lighting to make it safer in the camp, and also to install a perimeter fence. One of the camps I visited yesterday is quite close to a main road. And due to the many of the children in the camp, we need to provide a bit more security.
WERMAN: When you spoke with them yesterday, how did they describe the fighting that's going on in the Swat Valley right now?
RUMMERY: Well, people talk about hearing shelling and fighting and bombing, planes and helicopters flying over. One of the things that have really prompted this recent exodus is a couple of days ago, the government authorities in Swat suggested that people should flee. The government actually announced that they would escalate the hostilities against the militants and suggested that people should flee. They also relaxed the curfew, so they've opened up a few more hours of non-curfew which has allowed people to actually move out of the area. But those I've spoke to have talked about before they opened up, it was really difficult to live in Swat, because of the curfew, because of that people couldn't really resume their livelihoods. They couldn't go to work, they couldn't go to school, you couldn't go to the market. And it had really become quite impossible to have a normal existence.
WERMAN: Is this the largest number of people displaced by fighting in this part of the world, to your knowledge?
RUMMERY: This is really approaching a very internal displacement quite unprecedented levels. I mean, in 2005, we had the earthquake in Pakistan, and we had up to 200,000 people in camps. The government said that up to 3 million people may have been affected all over, but in terms of conflict-induced displacement in Pakistan and around this part of the world, this is certainly reaching quite unprecedented levels.
WERMAN: Ariane Rummery, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. She's been speaking with us from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Ariane, thank you very much.