Large numbers of refugees returning to Kyrgyzstan need humanitarian aid

As refugees return to southern Kyrgyzstan, UNHCR staff visit groups of returning refugees and displaced people near the southern towns of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

A UNHCR staff member interviews some of the returnees in the burned school in Tashlak district.  © UNHCR/A.Rummery

JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan, June 25 (UNHCR) - Amid mass returns from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan, UNHCR field officers have been visiting groups of returning refugees and displaced people near the southern towns of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

According to the Kyrgyz authorities, 70,000 refugees have returned so far. At the same time, internally displaced people (IDPs) are also returning to their places of origin.

Both refugees and IDPs have expressed mixed feelings to UNHCR staff about going home. Although they want to be reunited with their families, many are worried for their safety and about going back to destroyed, damaged or looted homes.

"We are concerned about the voluntary nature of returns in some cases. UNHCR's view is that where people are returning, they should be able to do so on an informed basis and in conditions of safety, voluntariness, and sustainability," a spokesman for the refugee agency said.

Another concern is that refugees may be returning to situations of further displacement because many homes have been destroyed or badly damaged. "We are seeing people moving in with families in their former neighbourhoods. Conditions are crowded and there is an urgent need to further increase assistance," the UNHCR spokesman said.

In the district of Tashlak, UNHCR on Friday visited some 70 people from 10 families who were taking shelter in a burnt-out school after returning from Uzbekistan on Thursday. UNHCR staff handed out kitchen sets, sleeping mats and plastic sheeting for shelter. Almost every house has been looted and burnt in the district.

Ismailia, 58, was in tears as she told UNHCR she had to leave her daughter behind in Uzbekistan because the younger woman gave birth in a refugee camp on Tuesday and could not travel. "It happened earlier than we expected because she was so worried. I am so sad it happened in such conditions, although she was looked after," she said, adding that she expected her daughter back soon.

Shozizah, 67, stayed in Uzbekistan only one day before returning with the rest of her community on Thursday evening. She had stayed behind when the other women in her community fled because she wanted to look after her husband.

She hid in her house, which was one of the few in the district to be spared destruction as it was hidden behind the school. "The armed people came back shooting and I was really scared. I decided to escape," Shozizah said, adding that "now I am cooking for everybody as I am the only one with a kitchen."

Matuna also remained in Kyrgyzstan, hiding with a friend. She said the familyhad been preparing for her daughetr's wedding before the violence erupted on June 10. "We were collecting gold and clothes and other things for her wedding. It was to take place next month. But now it is all gone. All the clothes are burnt," she said biterly.

UNHCR's emergency team in Osh delivered relief supplies on Friday morning. They report a generally calm situation, some traffic on the streets and smaller markets open, but also significant destruction

Currently, UNHCR has four more relief flights scheduled for this weekend into Osh. Each will bring some 40 tonnes of urgently needed tents, blankets, plastic sheeting, kitchen utensils and other non-food relief items.

  • Crowds of refugees swarmed the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgzystan on their way home to their villages in the south.
    Crowds of refugees swarmed the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgzystan on their way home to their villages in the south.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • Refugees returning to Kyrgyzstan from Uzbekistan.
    Refugees returning to Kyrgyzstan from Uzbekistan.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • An elderly returnee at the border.
    An elderly returnee at the border. © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • Thousands of civilians return home to southern Kyrgyzstan despite not having any place to stay.
    Thousands of civilians return home to southern Kyrgyzstan despite not having any place to stay.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • Mansura sits in the remains of her family compound, which was destroyed during the recent violence.
    Mansura sits in the remains of her family compound, which was destroyed during the recent violence.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • Farooz and her baby amongst the ruins of their community in southern Kyrgyzstan.
    Farooz and her baby amongst the ruins of their community in southern Kyrgyzstan.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • Displaced men in Kyrgyzstan find shelter wherever they can - in their cars, under trucks and out in the open.
    Displaced men in Kyrgyzstan find shelter wherever they can - in their cars, under trucks and out in the open.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman
  • With the water supply to the area cut off, displaced civilians drink whatever water they can find.
    With the water supply to the area cut off, displaced civilians drink whatever water they can find.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • A group of men share a plastic sheet. Many of the displaced in Kyrgyzstan have no shelter or blankets and must sleep in the open.
    A group of men share a plastic sheet. Many of the displaced in Kyrgyzstan have no shelter or blankets and must sleep in the open.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • A displaced man injured in the recent attacks is treated at a clinic near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border.
    A displaced man injured in the recent attacks is treated at a clinic near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • A UNHCR staff members talks with displaced people in the south of Kyrgyzstan.
    A UNHCR staff members talks with displaced people in the south of Kyrgyzstan.  © UNHCR/S.Schulman/June 2010
  • A refugee camp in Kara-Su, in the Andijan province of Uzbekistan, hosts some 2,700 refugees, mainly from the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan.
    A refugee camp in Kara-Su, in the Andijan province of Uzbekistan, hosts some 2,700 refugees, mainly from the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan.  © UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk/June 2010
  • Newly arrived refugees from Kyrgyzstan sheltering near the border.
    Newly arrived refugees from Kyrgyzstan sheltering near the border.  © UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk/June 2010
  • A UNHCR staff member talks to refugees in Pakhtaabad refugee camp, in the Andijan province of Uzbekistan. The camp, established in a former warehouse.
    A UNHCR staff member talks to refugees in Pakhtaabad refugee camp, in the Andijan province of Uzbekistan. The camp, established in a former warehouse.  © UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk/June 2010
  • A young refugee.
    A young refugee.  © UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk/June 2010
  • Within 72 hours of the beginning of the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, the UN refugee agency sent cargo planes filled with humanitarian aid to Uzbekistan.
    Within 72 hours of the beginning of the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, the UN refugee agency sent cargo planes filled with humanitarian aid to Uzbekistan.  © UNHCR/M.Niyazov/June 2010