Speculators loom over flood-hit Afghan refugees in Pakistan
The UN refugee agency expressed fears Friday that property speculators would swoop in on Afghan refugee settlements in Pakistan, after the communities were wrecked by the floods.
"UNHCR is increasingly concerned about the plight of flood-affected Afghan refugees in Pakistan, some of whom are now under pressure to repatriate by speculators around Peshawar seeking to develop land that until now has been occupied by refugee settlements," said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The settlements, particularly around Peshawar, were established 30 years ago to house Afghan refugees fleeing a Soviet invasion.
Edwards noted that the locations were then remote or on the edge of the cities. But these cities have grown over the past three decades, and property prices have risen in tandem, making the land where the refugees are housed far more valuable today.
"You have a situation here where people have been displaced; land is valuable. You do have people with strong political and other associations," Edwards said.
"This is a volatile situation, we need to make sure that people can move back as quickly as possible," added the spokesman.
He did not immediately have a figure for the number of Afghan refugees who could be affected by these speculators.
The Pakistani government has assured that all those affected by the floods, including refugees, would be able to return and rebuild their homes, said Edwards.
But he added that the UNHCR hoped this assurance from the federal government would be implemented by local authorities.
"We hope that local arrangements can be made quickly to ensure the spirit of this commitment cascades down to all levels and moves by land speculators are stymied," he added.
"We welcome the assurances we've seen so far, but we need to see those fulfilled.
"I think we're going to have to watch this situation very closely. It's a fast moving environment, a difficult environment to enforce," added Edwards.
Pakistan is home to 1.7 million Afghan refugees, including 1.5 million who live in provinces affected by the devastating floods.
© 2010 AFP