Relief work has been suspended at the Kacha Pakha camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Kohat town in northwestern Pakistan after two bomb attacks killed at least 41 IDPs, according to officials and media reports.
Commissioner of Kohat Khalid Umerzai told IRIN both attacks “seemed to be suicide bombings”. At least 50 other persons, almost all IDPs, were injured.
The UN has condemned the attack and said it was temporarily suspending relief work in the Hangu and Kohat regions of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
“These were people who had fled their homes. They had suffered displacement; they’d suffered losing their homes. They’d come to the registration point considering it a safe haven. They’d come for help. They’d come for sanctuary. We mourn their loss, and condemn their killing,” Martin Mogwanja, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan, said in a statement.
The camp that was attacked houses some 1,000 people displaced by fighting between the army and Taliban militants. Fresh fighting in the Orakzai and Kurram agencies on the Afghan border is bringing a new wave of IDPs to the camp.
According to a 16 April report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) sourcing the provincial government, there are 270,426 IDPs originating from Orakzai and Kurram agencies. [http://oneresponse.info/Countries/Pakistan/publicdocuments/Pakistan%20Humanitarian%20Update%20No%2012.pdf].
Kohat is a key destination point for the displaced. Many are living with host families while others have moved into camps, according to aid workers.
The motive behind the bombing is unclear, but Kohat police chief Dilawar Khan Bangash said “it seems the purpose was to target members of the Manikhel and Baramadkhel tribes who had constituted a large percentage of those fleeing recently”.
He said the bombers, who had disguised themselves by wearing loose ‘burqas’, could have been seeking “revenge” as members of those tribes had raised a militia to fight Taliban militants in their areas. According to media reports, militant outfits based in Punjab Province in the east took responsibility for the blasts.
“We are not safe. At home we face death and when we try to find safety by leaving our homes, we confront death here too,” Kharan Khan, a 60-year-old IDP in Kohat, told IRIN. He described “scenes of mayhem and chaos” as the bombers struck an area where IDPs were queuing to collect food rations.
Pakistan has faced a series of militant attacks over the past few years. More than 500 people are estimated to have died as a result of bomb attacks in 2010 alone.[http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/bombblast.htm]
“There is very limited security at camps because nobody really expects such vulnerable people to be attacked in so ruthless a manner,” said Jehanzeb Khan, a 25-year-old volunteer who works with IDPs in Kohat. He feared the suspension in relief work by the UN and possibly other organizations “would worsen the plight of IDPs”.