Kyrgyzstan: UNHCR calls for better return conditions, appeals for more funds before winter

Briefing Notes, 27 July 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 July 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is calling on local and central authorities in Kyrgyzstan to improve the situation and the return conditions for some 75,000 remaining internally displaced people (IDPs) who were uprooted by the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan during June.

UNHCR is appealing today for US$ 23 million, part of the UN Kyrgyzstan flash appeal of US$ 96.4 million, which is being launched today in Bishkek. These funds are urgently needed for emergency shelter and protection projects in southern Kyrgyzstan. Fresh funds will allow us to continue our protection, legal and humanitarian assistance to the affected population until the end of the year. These activities include restoration of important identification, civil status and property documents as well as free legal counseling.

Our teams in Osh and Jalalabad meet and visit IDPs in southern Kyrgyzstan on a daily basis and monitor their situation. Many of the displaced report to UNHCR frequent instances of detention and harassment. They also speak of difficulties in accessing basic medical services, and of conditions of no electricity and poor waste management. Similar messages are communicated to us through our free telephone help lines, which we man 24-hours a day, as well as through our local partners.

Together with our partners we continue to counsel people on their rights as well as on procedures for restoring lost or destroyed personal documentation. UNHCR also assists Kyrgyz authorities to enhance its capacity to issue new documents.

We are encouraged by recent government decisions to establish mobile teams to visit and assist the communities which were affected by June violence and to waive the fee for issuing temporary ID cards.

Reconstruction of housing and emergency shelter is another key issue of concern to UNHCR. Many returnees and IDPs have shown reservations about the new plans of local authorities to construct multi-storey buildings to accommodate those who have lost houses, replacing the old traditional neighbourhoods. Most of the people want to restore what they have lost a family home respecting their customs and lifestyle. Most importantly, the displaced are asking for urgent shelter assistance to rebuild their homes before winter.

UNHCR advocates for a stable and sustainable return. We welcome the recent statement of the President Rosa Otunbaeva calling for a possibility for the affected population to opt for either a new apartment or for the reconstruction of their destroyed home.

The funds requested in the appeal will also cover the humanitarian needs of some 75,000 IDPs during the forthcoming winter. Furthermore, the shelter cluster, coordinated by UNHCR, has developed an emergency shelter strategy in consultation with the authorities which includes the construction of solid warm shelter for up to 2,000 most vulnerable households in Osh and Jalal'Abad. However, emergency shelter assistance for the forthcoming winter is not an alternative for the long term reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Our main challenge for the shelter programme is the short time frame for implementation before the onset of the winter season in Kyrgyzstan in less than three months. Winters are harsh in this part of the world with temperatures dropping to minus 25 degrees Celsius.

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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

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Myanmar's Rakhine state, where some 115,000 people are desperately in need of aid after being displaced during two waves of inter-communal violence in June and October 2012. The displaced, most of them ethnic Rohingya, have sought shelter in temporary relief camps and others remain scattered across the state, living under tight security in their destroyed villages. Conditions are harsh: the camps are overcrowded and some lack even the most basic of sanitation facilities while many of the villages are totally destroyed and running low on water. In one village, more than 32 families were living cheek-by-jowl in just two large tents. The children have no access to education and the newborn and elderly are in a very vulnerable position due to a lack of medical facilities. UNHCR is distributing relief supplies and working with the authorities and partners to improve camp conditions, but international assistance is required.

Myanmar IDPs pick up the pieces in Rakhine state

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