UNHCR helps refugees in Kyrgyzstan make it through the winter
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, April 22 (UNHCR) - Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan have thanked UNHCR for providing them with winter aid, saying it had helped them survive at a time of economic hardship. Their expressions of gratitude came as the refugee agency said it was extending the special winterization programme until the end of May.
Abdullah,* who has lived with his family in Bishkek for the past 10 years, said the aid, including blankets, had "saved lives and brought hope to refugees in very difficult times." The Afghan refugee added that "a steep increase in food prices made our live in Kyrgyzstan very difficult" as winter approached, but the UN assistance ensured that he, his wife and their seven children made it through the cold months.
Another Afghan refugee, Salma,* said that until UNHCR helped her and her family, "We did not not have electricity in our apartment in Bishkek and were forced to eat cold food. Sometimes we did not have anything to eat," she said.
Last summer, the UN country team in Kyrgyzstan started to prepare an aid package for the most vulnerable people in the Central Asian country, including the estimated 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers who live here.
UNHCR and its sister agencies believed they needed to intervene to avert a humanitarian crisis amid rising fuel and food prices, and erratic electricity supplies. A UN Humanitarian Flash Appeal was launched to raise funds, some of which were diverted to UNHCR for its winter operation.
The winterization project began in October, when UNHCR distributed mattresses and blankets. By mid-March, more than 850 asylum seekers and refugees had also each received three months of food aid from UNHCR, including rice, cooking oil and sugar.
Distribution points were established in the capital, Bishkek, and in Osh, while UNHCR's implementing partners delivered aid to people who could not make it to these cities. The World Food Programme, meanwhile, distributed food to tens of thousands of needy Kyrgyz people and non-refugees.
The refugees and asylum seekers also welcomed last week's announcement that UNHCR was able to extend the winter aid programme until the end of next month, thanks to funds from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund, which was launched in 2006 to ensure that funds are available immediately in response to disasters and emergencies.
"Thank you very much for this timely help. Only the day before yesterday, my wife and I were thinking about oil and flour. We had only half a litre at home and we don't have money to buy more," said Yuldash,* a refugee from Uzbekistan. "Now we can eat normally three times a day."
Suna,* a 38-year-old who fled from persecution in Afghanistan, said the fresh aid - including more food - could not have come at a better time. "For the next few months, me and my husband will not have to torment ourselves trying to think how we can feed our seven sons." She and her family would like to integrate here.
"We greatly appreciate this support and its extension," Hans Schodder, UNHCR's representative in Kyrgyzstan, said of the Central Emergency Response Fund. "It saved lives and helped to restore the dignity of many refugees and asylum seekers."
* Names have been changed for protection reasons
By Cholpon Sultanova in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan