UNHCR calls for confidence-building to sustain returns to south Kyrgyzstan

News Stories, 10 June 2011

© UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk
A returnee couple outside their new UNHCR-built home in Jalalabad, southern Kyrgyzstan.

OSH, Kyrgyzstan, June 10 (UNHCR) A year after violence erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan, tens of thousands of people are still unable to go home. The UN refugee agency has called for more confidence-building efforts to ensure sustainable returns and genuine reconciliation.

Between June 10 and 14 last year, communal clashes mainly in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad left more than 400 people dead. Some 375,000 others were forced to flee amid widespread destruction and looting of homes. About 75,000 people crossed the border into Uzbekistan while 300,000 were displaced within Kyrgyzstan.

Most of them were able to return to their home areas shortly after. UNHCR mobilized emergency assistance and within 100 days, helped to build emergency transitional shelter for more than 13,400 people whose homes were destroyed. The agency also distributed tons of coal, warm clothing and relief items to 21,000 people to help them through six months of winter.

However, some 60,000 people are still displaced today across the country and abroad. Another 20,000 people are living with host families. Some say they cannot return because of continuing problems such as damaged property, security concerns and a lack of job opportunities.

"One year has passed but it is still too early to talk about stability," said one man, age 39. "We still do not let our children play alone in the streets and we accompany them everywhere."

One woman, 42, lamented that the number of factories in Jalalabad has dwindled to one. "There should be work for all, so that people would not have to leave their families and go to Russia to earn money," she said. "We [the different communities] should work together in the same factories. Only by being together and working shoulder to shoulder can we regain that trust and understand each other better."

UNHCR teams are working in 50 locations across Osh and Jalalabad to monitor the situation, and to discuss and seek solutions for emerging issues with the communities and authorities. The agency runs a round-the-clock toll-free hotline that receives about 100 calls a week. The most common topics involve the delivery of assistance, counselling about property and legal rights, access to public services, security, and how to restore businesses and employment.

UNHCR and its partners are currently assisting some 280,000 affected people in Osh and Jalalabad. This includes funding mobile teams to help them restore identity and property documents that were lost or damaged in last year's violence. People from different communities are working and learning side by side in quick impact projects to rehabilitate small infrastructure, generate income and build peace.

The UN refugee agency is now focused on meeting the legal and socio-economic needs of affected people, with special attention to the most vulnerable. It believes there is a need to restore communication and rebuild confidence between communities and authorities to facilitate reconciliation and lasting peace.

Out of the US$11.4 million UNHCR needs to run projects in Kyrgyzstan this year, it has received just over half and is facing a shortfall of $5.4 million.

By Natalia Prokopchuk and Dania Gaisina in Osh, Kyrgyzstan




UNHCR country pages


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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

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

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The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

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