One month after ethnic clashes in June left over 300 people dead, the UNHCR estimates that up to 75,000 refugees in southern Kyrgyzstan are still homeless or in need of shelter. Uprooted by the violence, these people are either too afraid to return home or are living near to their houses, which have been destroyed.
Shelter is urgently needed because winter is fast approaching the region. Within 12 weeks, temperatures will drop to minus 20 or 25 degrees.
The UNHCR has gained agreement with local authorities in Jalalabad to erect 500 new houses and construction of these has already begun, but in the town of Osh, they are awaiting permission to start.
Aid workers are still very concerned about the situation in Kyrgyzstan, especially because many refugees have lost documents like birth and marriage certificates and passports. This means they have no documentation to prove ownership of their land and are also at risk of detention by the authorities, who have set up check points on the roads.
With continuing reports about people being detained, many ethnic Uzbeks are reluctant to make unnecessary journeys. Sometimes the men have returned home to claim rights to their property, leaving women and children behind in the tented camps or with relatives.
The growing sense of fear and insecurity means that some Uzbek families are trying to leave again and return to Uzbekistan. However, currently this is proving impossible for many, since borders have been closed.
Human Rights Watch has said that the Kyrgyz and Uzbek governments should open border crossings between the countries, to allow any ethnic Uzbeks who wish to seek asylum in Uzbekistan to leave southern Kyrgyzstan. Persuaded back to Kyrgyzstan after the violence in order to take part in June’s constitutional referendum, many Uzbeks now again feel unsafe in the region, because of the many reports of intimidation, arrests and beatings by law enforcement officials. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 1,000 people have been arrested in Osh and Jalalabad. Aid agencies have also reported that some Uzbeks are having problems accessing health care, with military units posted near health facilities.