07/16/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Swat, Christian refugees excluded from government reconstruction fund

Christian activists denounce disparity in treatment for victims of the war between the army and the Taliban. Only Muslim families, registered in government centres, receive funding. Christians helped by relatives and friends, because chased from refugee camps and deprived of aid.

Peshawar (AsiaNews) - The Christian refugees in the Swat valley and Malakand Division are not receiving refugee aid promised by the government to, reports the Pakistan Christian Post, which calls for equal treatment for the three million displaced persons, without any confessional discrimination.

On July 13 Islamabad initiated proceedings for the return of internally displaced persons. Premier Yousaf Raza Gilan said that the army operations have successfully removed the Taliban from Bonier, Dir, Swat valley and many other parts of Malakand division. Several areas of the north-west of the country - near the border with Afghanistan - are now safe and refugees can return to their homes.

 To encourage a return to normalcy, the government decided to allocate 25 thousand rupees (about 230 euros) compensation for families affected by the war between the army and the Taliban. The first operation for the repatriation of refugees started with the refugees in camps in Mardan, with the delivery of the sum of money as an incentive for the reconstruction of homes.

The Pakistan Christian Post points out that there are no significant records of Christians in refugee government camps. Only 60 families obtained refugee status from the government: they are registered at the Christian relief centre in Mardan, set up by the Church in Pakistan. But "thousands of Christians" who have been adopted by relatives and friends in the North West Frontier Province and Punjab, risk receiving no compensation.

In recent weeks, AsiaNews reported on the unequal treatment of Christian victims of the war, driven from the camps for their faith and the victims of multiple discrimination. For this reason, Caritas, the Catholic Church of Pakistan and other Christian organizations have begun fundraising and distribution of food and basic necessities for displaced persons, benefiting both Christians and Muslims.

Nazir S Bhatti, President of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), expresses "concern" about the disparity of treatment and has asked the government to "ensure compensation to the refugees of Christian faith", who have found accommodation with relatives.

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