Help for desperate refugees in Tajik winter

Briefing Notes, 1 February 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 February 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is rushing emergency supplies to over 1,000 desperate refugees in Tajikistan in the midst of the country's coldest winter in 25 years.

The unusually harsh winter in Tajikistan has frozen rivers, affected the production of hydropower and exacerbated an existing energy crisis throughout the country. Electricity is limited to one or two hours per day in the capital, Dushanbe, with further power cuts expected. Millions of Tajiks are reported to be suffering from the cold.

Among those affected are 1,088 refugees, mostly from Afghanistan. Many of them do not have enough resources to heat their homes, prepare food, buy warm clothes and access medical care. Their most urgent needs are medicines, warm clothes for children and an increase in their monthly cash assistance as prices have risen dramatically.

As part of UN efforts to support the government through the crisis, UNHCR is distributing 130 stoves, 1,500 blankets, 750 jerry cans, 150 tea pots, candles and other basic supplies to the refugees. The thick cotton blankets are a good source of warmth while the jerry cans can help to store water amid a severe water shortage caused by a breakdown in the water supply system.

This is the second round of distribution since last November, when UNHCR provided blankets, stoves and medical care to the most vulnerable refugees living outside Dushanbe.