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Winter looms for homeless in Kyrgyzstan

During the violence which broke out in Kyrgyzstan over the summer between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities, more than 400 people died and over 2,000 houses were destroyed. Members of the international police force from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe are in the region with the task of rebuilding relations, but any trust between the two communities seems to lie shattered, just like the ruins of many homes.

The government has begun the process of rebuilding. In Osh, foundations have been laid for over 1,000 homes and over 50 have new roofs. But many families are still living in tents. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is working hard to meet a 1 November target for providing Emergency Transitional Shelter, but has been faced with delays over the approval of house designs, establishing legal ownership of land when documents have been destroyed and a timber shortage following the forest fires in Russia. With winter fast approaching, the UNHCR may have to rely on placing many of the homeless with host families and helping with extra supplies of coal, beds and blankets.

One father, Yashinbek Yuldashev, whose home still lies in ruin in a downtown district of Osh, explained that the building used to have 11 rooms where 14 people in his extended family lived. Now, a white tarpaulin is strung up over the ruins. It is already cold at night and while the adults can cope with the falling temperatures, he says the little ones cannot.

Many children have been traumatized by the loss of their homes. In Sharq, a neighbourhood of Osh, all that remains of 12-year old Shohruh’s house is scorched walls and charred remains. The little boy points to where his room used to be and says “my bed was right here”. Many Uzbeks died in this area, including the father of Shohruh’s friend and he has often seen adults and relatives crying. Shohruh’s school was also destroyed and the ground is now bulldozed where it stood. The UN’s children’s fund (UNICEF), has set up a tented school where around 700 children are now receiving lessons. For traumatised children, the school environment offers some semblance of normality and a level of stability.

But a stable environment in the wider community seems some way off, as Uzbeks keep to themselves and rarely venture out in public places. The Kyrgyz community also suffered losses, as young men were murdered in revenge attacks. Kyrgyz families are still fearful about further reprisals. Many have been detained by the police, mostly Uzbeks, though the local prosecutor denies any bias. But fewer than a third of those arrested are expected to be brought to trial because of a lack of witnesses. So both communities feel they are unlikely to receive justice for the deaths of loved ones and suspicion and mistrust remains.

Osh is now a city of two divided communities. Few there believe the forthcoming elections and or the talks of reconciliation by the political parties will make any difference. At best, the two communities hope to maintain a fragile co-existence so homes and lives can be rebuilt in peace.

Laurinda Luffman signature