UNHCR launches emergency airlift to Uzbekistan

Briefing Notes, 15 June 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The first of six planned Ilyushin-76 cargo planes, each carrying 40 tonnes of UNHCR relief supplies for refugees fleeing violence in southern Kyrgystan, is scheduled to take off from Dubai tomorrow morning (Wednesday, 16 June) at 0100 hrs GMT and is expected to land at Andijan airport in Uzbekistan at 0500 hrs GMT.

The UN refugee agency offered its assistance to Uzbek authorities who are already dealing with needs of the displaced. The government in Tashkent welcomed humanitarian aid from UNHCR on Monday.

At the request of the Uzbek authorities, the first UNHCR-chartered flight will be loaded with 800 lightweight tents to meet rapidly growing shelter needs. According to Uzbek government more than 75,000 refugees have arrived from Kyrgyzstan since last Friday. UNHCR appreciates Uzbekistan's decision to receive and assist these desperate people.

The subsequent five flights will be loaded with blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting for emergency shelters. In total, we plan to deliver some 240 tons of humanitarian assistance from our central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Upon arrival in Uzbekistan the supplies will be loaded onto trucks and taken immediately to various sites hosting refugees in close coordination with the government.

Part of the UNHCR emergency team is travelling today in advance of these flights and includes field officers as well as experts on operations, site planning and logistics.

We are also preparing a separate airlift and deployment of emergency team to Kyrgyzstan.

UNHCR is alarmed by the rapid escalation of violence since 10 June in Southern Kyrgyzstan which has left scores of people dead and led to the displacement of an estimated 200,000 people within the country in addition to 75,000 refugees who have sought safety in Uzbekistan.

The situation in Osh and Jalalabat remains difficult with sporadic fighting and attacks on civilians, including women and children, continuing on Monday. We fear that unless peace and order is restored swiftly more people could be displaced as they flee to the countryside or try to cross the border to Uzbekistan. As part of the UN country team in Kyrgyzstan, we are appealing to halt the violence and ensure the protection of civilians throughout the country.

We are also concerned that the poor security situation in Osh, Jalalabat and other areas is impeding thorough needs assessments as well as aid deliveries. UNHCR has been coordinating the humanitarian response within the UN country team and we are stepping up our humanitarian assistance operations for displaced people. As part of the inter-agency response, UNHCR's operational focus will be on shelter and protection needs of internally displaced.

Urgent needs include food, medicine, and shelter and we need better security to ensure the safety of humanitarian staff and goods. Some food and health aid is being delivered already, but not enough aid is getting through. There are reports that displaced people near the border may be short of water and that those made homeless by violence may be without shelter.

Kyrgyzstan has requested substantive international support to address the humanitarian crisis that is evolving in its southern regions.