• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

A son's wedding feast goes to feed hundreds in southern Kyrgyzstan

News Stories, 24 June 2010

© UNHCR/S.Schulman
Displaced men in Kyrgyzstan find shelter wherever they can in their cars, under trucks and out in the open.

JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan, June 24 (UNHCR) Sixty-year-old grandmother Mavludahon spent months putting aside wheat and other food for her son's wedding in the autumn. But over the past two weeks, she has been using the stockpile to feed hundreds of people who have fled to her village to escape violence in other parts of southern Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad region.

Soon after the violence erupted on June 10, thousands of scared civilians passed through the village on their way to seek shelter in nearby Uzbekistan. An uneasy calm has returned to the south, but Mavludahon still hosts internally displaced people (IDP) in the compound of her family's walled home, though many of the estimated 12,000 IDPs in the area began returning home on Thursday.

Only pregnant and elderly women have been staying in the house itself; the rest sleep on carpets laid out on the grass or in the yard. "I don't mind them staying because people need to help each other in this tragic situation," Mavludahon told UNHCR on Tuesday. "Some of them were crying for days after they arrived."

Those now staying with the matriarch are from a second wave of people who arrived in the village on June 14. They were on their way to the border, but unable to cross.

Located only five minutes walk from the border, Mavludahon's village and the surrounding area has been hosting one of the highest concentrations of IDPs in the Jalal-Abad region. Women and children have been staying with host families while the men camped in the open.

Minajathon, aged 90, is the oldest person staying in Mavludahon's home. She can barely walk and had to be helped by neighbours with a car when her village, near the town of Bazar-Korgon, was attacked.

"I thought they wouldn't hurt me because I was old and alone in the house," she told UNHCR. "But, in fact, I only had a minute to get out before the house was burned down in front of me," added the old lady, who was happy to escape but anxious about the future.

"We are well fed, but we cannot stay here much longer," Minajathon said, adding: "We need to do something. We need to go home before the winter."

Forty-five-year-old Hosyaton fled her village with her husband and two grandchildren. They were lucky to stay together. The family fled through their maize fields as armed groups moved through the village, separating the men from the women. "We had to keep our heads down. If we had stood up we would have been seen, even in the maize field," she explained.

Hosyaton said she was hesitant to return to her home village, where ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks had lived in peaceful coexistence. "After seeing so much tragedy, it hurts. Even the locals started shooting. It is okay to heal the physical wounds, but if there is no trust how can we live with them," she said.

UNHCR is urgently rushing more relief items like kitchen sets, jerry cans, blankets and sleeping mats to Kyrgyzstan. Those returning to damaged houses will also need relief aid while they rebuild.

Earlier this week, UNHCR estimated the number of internally displaced at some 300,000, including 40,000 people without shelter. Meanwhile, more and more refugees are returning from Uzbekistan to their areas of origin and urgent shelter interventions will be needed to help them.

By Asel Ormanova in Jalal-Abad and Ariane Rummery in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan




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

Kyrgyzstan: One Year OnPlay video

Kyrgyzstan: One Year On

A year ago, when violence erupted in Kyrgyzstan, Saliya and her family hid in their basement for three days as fighting raged overhead. Life is slowly returning to normal today.
Kyrgyzstan: The Need to RebuildPlay video

Kyrgyzstan: The Need to Rebuild

Thousands of displaced people in the town of Osh are struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Kyrgzstan: On the MovePlay video

Kyrgzstan: On the Move

Violence in early June in southern Kyrgyzstan forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes. In the Jalal-Abad region, some discuss their experiences.