UNHCR starts aid distribution as number of refugees in Uzbekistan tops 100,000

News Stories, 22 June 2010

© UNHCR photo
Workers get ready to unload tonnes of UNHCR relief items from a cargo aircraft at the airport in Osh.

ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan, June 21 (UNHCR) The distribution of UN refugee agency aid is under way in Uzbekistan to tens of thousands of refugees who have fled violence this month in southern areas of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbekistan government believes that more than 100,000 have crossed the border since June 10.

The Uzbek authorities have distributed tonnes of aid since the weekend, including tents, plastic sheeting for shelter, blankets and other relief items. The government is providing medical care and meals to the ethnic Uzbek refugees, some 90 per cent of whom are women and children.

A UNHCR emergency team arrived in the Andijan area last week and has since been visiting sites where the refugees are staying and doing assessments. "We were impressed by the organization and maintenance. All refugees get hot cooked meals three times per day, they get bottled drinking water and water for washing," said a UNHCR official.

"We talked to people and they said medical attention and health services are available at any time in the camp. Refugees said they are very grateful to the government and the people of Uzbekistan," he added.

The Uzbek authorities say there are more than 50 sites hosting refugees in the border provinces of Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan. Some refugees are staying in schools, while an unknown number have found shelter with host families.

Members of the UNHCR emergency team said many people were struggling to deal with family separations during their flight from southern Kyrgyzstan. One elderly woman said she planned to return to Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan to look for her daughter and new-born grandchild, who were left behind in the rush to escape violence in the town.

Uzbekistan's Deputy Prime Minister Farida Akbarova, touring one site, told UNHCR staff that managing the crisis was a government priority. "We have mobilized civil servants, teachers, doctors, students to work with the refugees," she said.

Several refugees said they were grateful for the help, but they wished to return home once the situation stabilized in Kyrgyzstan. A joint-UN flash appeal aimed at helping the refugees in Uzbekistan is expected to be launched later this week.

Overall, the situation on the ground in southern Kyrgyzstan remains tense. The authorities have started to remove barricades in Osh, where UNHCR hopes to establish a presence as part of the UN hub at the airport. The refugee agency has flown 80 tonnes of aid to Osh since Sunday, enough for 15,000 internally displaced people.

UNHCR's local partners are assessing needs and organizing delivery of assistance in the Osh area. The poor security situation, however, continues to hamper delivery and proper assessment of needs.

The situation remains tense in Jalalabad, the other main town affected by the violence. UNHCR established an office there on Monday and staff are on the ground working to verify the number of displaced, to visit the areas where they are concentrated and assess their needs. "Our teams report little traffic in the city and few people on the streets. In some areas every second house has been destroyed," said a UNHCR spokesperson.

UNHCR estimates that there are some 300,000 people displaced inside Kyrgyzstan, including 40,000 with urgent shelter needs. The authorities say some 9,000 people have returned to their homes from Uzbekistan and within Kyrgyzstan. The major concern mentioned by refugees is family tracing.

By Natalia Prokopchuk in Andijan, Uzbekistan