UNHCR starts aid distribution as number of refugees in Uzbekistan tops 100,000

News Stories, 22 June 2010

© UNHCR photo
Workers get ready to unload tonnes of UNHCR relief items from a cargo aircraft at the airport in Osh.

ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan, June 21 (UNHCR) The distribution of UN refugee agency aid is under way in Uzbekistan to tens of thousands of refugees who have fled violence this month in southern areas of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbekistan government believes that more than 100,000 have crossed the border since June 10.

The Uzbek authorities have distributed tonnes of aid since the weekend, including tents, plastic sheeting for shelter, blankets and other relief items. The government is providing medical care and meals to the ethnic Uzbek refugees, some 90 per cent of whom are women and children.

A UNHCR emergency team arrived in the Andijan area last week and has since been visiting sites where the refugees are staying and doing assessments. "We were impressed by the organization and maintenance. All refugees get hot cooked meals three times per day, they get bottled drinking water and water for washing," said a UNHCR official.

"We talked to people and they said medical attention and health services are available at any time in the camp. Refugees said they are very grateful to the government and the people of Uzbekistan," he added.

The Uzbek authorities say there are more than 50 sites hosting refugees in the border provinces of Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan. Some refugees are staying in schools, while an unknown number have found shelter with host families.

Members of the UNHCR emergency team said many people were struggling to deal with family separations during their flight from southern Kyrgyzstan. One elderly woman said she planned to return to Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan to look for her daughter and new-born grandchild, who were left behind in the rush to escape violence in the town.

Uzbekistan's Deputy Prime Minister Farida Akbarova, touring one site, told UNHCR staff that managing the crisis was a government priority. "We have mobilized civil servants, teachers, doctors, students to work with the refugees," she said.

Several refugees said they were grateful for the help, but they wished to return home once the situation stabilized in Kyrgyzstan. 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, where UNHCR hopes to establish a presence as part of the UN hub at the airport. The refugee agency has flown 80 tonnes of aid to Osh since Sunday, enough for 15,000 internally displaced people.

UNHCR's local partners are assessing needs and organizing delivery of assistance in the Osh area. The poor security situation, however, continues to hamper delivery and proper assessment of needs.

The situation remains tense in Jalalabad, the other main town affected by the violence. UNHCR established an office there on Monday and 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," said a UNHCR spokesperson.

UNHCR estimates that there are some 300,000 people displaced inside Kyrgyzstan, including 40,000 with urgent shelter needs. The authorities say some 9,000 people have returned to their homes from Uzbekistan and within Kyrgyzstan. The major concern mentioned by refugees is family tracing.

By Natalia Prokopchuk in Andijan, Uzbekistan




UNHCR country pages

Crisis in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan: You can make a difference

Help UNHCR's relief efforts in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Emergency Response

UNHCR is committed to increasing its ability to respond to complex emergency situations.

A Place to Call Home: The Situation of Stateless Persons in the Kyrgyz Republic

Findings of surveys commissioned by UNHCR, Bishkek 2009.

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 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.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake

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