Lahore, May 11 (ANI): The United Nations has warned that an estimated 200,000 Pakistanis have fled the Swat valley this week alone and another 300,000 are poised to flee if they get the chance, taking the total migration to one million people forced away from their homes by fighting in the past 12 months, making it the biggest internal displacement in Pakistan since Independence in 1947.
Aid agencies have warned of up to 500,000 people from the country's northwest fleeing their homes.
Tales of Taliban terror, accusations of shelling by the army and the misery of sudden destitution fill the camps now sprouted for those fleeing Pakistan's offensive against extremists in the Swat valley.
"People are in shock. In some cases their homes have been destroyed. They are wondering when they'll be able to go back. Others already say they will not be able to go back," a UNICEF official interviewed in a Mardan refugee camp said.
The vast Jalala camp, just north of Mardan, the first big town on the road south out of Swat, was established just four days ago but it was declared full Sunday. The other main camp in Mardan, called Sheikh Shehzad, is also full, so future arrivals will now have to trek further to find shelter, Globe and Mail reports.
As the offensive started last week, there were perhaps a million people still in Swat. The Pakistani authorities have said that they expect between 500,000 and 800,000 to flee Swat and its neighbouring two districts, Dir and Buner, where operations against the Taliban are also under way.
Adding to 550,000 already displaced by anti-Taliban operations elsewhere in Pakistan, the country faces a refugee catastrophe second only to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan.
The military launched the operation under mounting international pressure ending a controversial ceasefire with the Taliban three moths ago. An earlier military effort over a period of two years had failed to dislodge the Taliban, the Daily Times reported.
The military's operation involving more than 5,000 troops appears firm. Some observers wondered earlier whether the army, trained and prepared to fight conventional wars, had the will or the capability to take on well-trained militants.
There is also speculation there may have been a reluctance to fight what could have been seen as another battle in America's war on terror. (ANI)