UNHCR aiding refugees in east Uzbekistan; situation in Kyrgyzstan tense

Briefing Notes, 22 June 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Uzbekistan, distribution of UNHCR aid has been underway over the weekend to some of the estimated 100,000 refugees who have crossed the border from Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbek authorities have themselves been handing out UNHCR relief items and our own emergency team has been on the ground in the Andijan area since Friday visiting sites and doing assessments.

The 240 tonnes of aid we've delivered so far in Uzbekistan includes tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and other basics. The Uzbek authorities tell us there are now more than 50 sites hosting refugees along the border. The government is providing medical care and meals to refugees. Most of those we've seen are women, children, and the elderly.

From our meetings with refugees so far it's clear that many are still struggling to deal with family separations during the flight from southern Kyrgyzstan. We spoke to one elderly woman who told us she was returning to Osh to find her daughter and new born grandchild who'd been left behind in a building basement during the rush to escape. We are seeing similar such tales.

A joint-UN flash appeal aimed at helping the refugees in Uzbekistan is expected to be launched later this week.

Overall the situation on the ground in southern Kyrgyzstan remains tense. The authorities have started to remove barricades in Osh. UNHCR has re-established a presence in Osh as part of the UN hub at the airport, and its NGO partners are assessing needs and organizing delivery of assistance. The poor security situation, however, continues to hamper delivery and proper assessment of needs.

In Jalal-Abad, the situation remains tense. UNHCR established an office in the city yesterday and UNHCR staff are on the ground working to verify the number of displaced, to visit the areas where they are concentrated and assess their needs. Our teams report little traffic in the city and few people on the streets. In some areas every second house has been destroyed.

UNHCR's first aid flights reached Osh on Sunday and yesterday, carrying 80 tonnes of relief. Our estimate at this stage remains that there are some 300,000 people displaced inside Kyrgyzstan, including some 40,000 with urgent shelter needs. The authorities estimate some 9,000 people have returned to their homes from Uzbekistan and within Kyrgyzstan.

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The crisis in Kyrgyzstan

UNHCR was monitoring the returns of refugees and other displaced people to southern Kyrgyzstan as tens of thousands of people headed back to their communities. Violent clashes in Osh and other cities in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier this month had sent an estimated 300,000 fleeing to the countryside, while 100,000 had fled across the border into Uzbekistan.

Days after the attacks, Kyrgyz authorities were still trying to restore law and order in the south, where they reported that some 180 people were killed and 1,900 injured. Many of the internally displaced have been staying with host families with many also sleeping rough. In Uzbekistan, authorities reported more than 50 sites hosting refugees in the border provinces of Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan. Some refugees were staying in schools and other public buildings.

UNHCR has provided more than 300 tonnes of emergency assistance in a series of relief flights over the past week, working with the concerned governments and local partners in sometimes hazardous conditions.

The crisis in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

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