Large numbers of refugees returning to Kyrgyzstan need humanitarian aid

Briefing Notes, 25 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 25 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Amid mass returns from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan, UNHCR field officers have been visiting groups of returning refugees and displaced people near Osh and Jalalabad. According to the Kyrgyz authorities 70,000 refugees have returned so far. At the same time internally displaced persons (IDPs) are also returning to their places of origin.

Both refugees and IDPs have expressed to us mixed feelings about going home. Although they want to be reunited with their families, many are worried for their safety and about going back to destroyed, damaged or looted homes. We are concerned about the voluntary nature of returns in some cases. UNHCR's view is that where people are returning, they should be able to do so on an informed basis and in conditions of safety, voluntariness, and sustainability.

Another concern is that refugees may be returning into situations of further displacement in light of the fact that many homes have been destroyed or badly damaged. We are seeing people moving in with families in their former neighbourhoods. Conditions are crowded and there is an urgent need to further increase assistance.

Our team in Osh has been delivering relief supplies this morning. They report a generally calm situation, some traffic on the streets and smaller markets open, but also significant destruction

Currently, we have four more relief flights scheduled for this weekend into Osh. Each will bring some 40 tonnes of urgently needed tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, kitchen utensils and other non-food relief items.

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Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

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

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