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UNHCR chief wraps up visit to Kyrgyzstan, urges support for reconciliation

News Stories, 1 July 2010

© UNHCR/A.Rummery
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres talks to returned refugees and IDPs in Jalalabad, southern Kyrgyzstan.

JALALABAD, Kyrgyzstan, July 1 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres continued a visit to southern Kyrgyzstan on Thursday by meeting returned refugees and victims of conflict in the city of Jalalabad before returning to the capital, Bishkek.

Guterres met families in Lenina and Ozernaya Streets in central Jalalabad who had returned to their burnt out homes and were living in tents provided by UNHCR. They had begun to clear debris and rubble from their homes but were concerned about the coming winter. Guterres also saw distribution of relief items including jerry-cans, blankets and tents being carried out by UNCHR partner ACTED.

Many who met Guterres appealed for better security. They spoke of feeling unsafe and of their fears about allowing their children outside. Others were concerned about having lost personal documents and their difficulties in replacing them.

"We want peace and we want our houses rebuilt," one resident said. "We want safety for our children, especially our sons, who are young men, so they can go outside and work," said one woman.

Guterres also visited parts of Jalalabad inhabited by ethnic Krygyz victims of last month's violence, including some whose businesses had been burned down. He also met the deputy governor and mayor of Jalalabad.

Speaking afterwards at a press conference in Bishkek he spoke of the common desire for peace among all those he had met. "Everybody said 'we want peace'. Nobody said 'we want revenge', including those people whose family members were killed," Guterres told journalists.

Guterres said it was important that calm prevailed so that reconciliation efforts could gain ground. "It is essential to reach out to the two communities and to make both understand that they've lived together for centuries and it is essential that they go on living together in peace," he said.

Guterres also pledged UNHCR's support to Kyrgyzstan in providing effective humanitarian aid distributed in a non-discriminatory manner. "We are at the disposal of the government to offer assistance to ensure protection concerns are taken into account in any reconstruction effort," he said.

High Commissioner Guterres met again with President Rosa Otunbayeva on Thursday after his visit to the south. He said he was encouraged by the President's strong commitment to reconciliation.

"Many people are living in tents near their destroyed houses waiting for a solution to their plight. It is the moment for a massive mobilization of solidarity for this population both in terms of humanitarian aid and to help the country with governance and economic development to help create the conditions for national reconciliation," he said.

By Ariane Rummery, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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Kyrgyzstan: The Need to Rebuild

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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

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

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