UN asks for $71 million in relief appeal after ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan

Uzbek women refugees on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Credit: UN Photo/EPA

18 June 2010 – The United Nations today called for $71 million to assist hundreds of thousands of people affected by ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan, as the top UN official in Central Asia said an international security presence may be needed to calm tensions and prevent a fresh eruption of the deadly violence that rocked the country a week ago.

“I have been shocked by the extent of the violence and appalled by the deaths and injuries, widespread arson, sexual violence, looting of state, commercial and private property and destruction of infrastructure,” said John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“I therefore urge all donors and supporters to ensure that this flash appeal for Kyrgyzstan receives a generous and rapid response,” Mr. Holmes added.

The appeal would provide life-saving assistance over the next six months to some 300,000 people who have been internally displaced by the conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan, and another 765,000 people who have been affected.

As of 16 June, the Kyrgyz health ministry recorded 187 deaths in the conflict, with 1,966 people injured, but some senior officials within the interim Government believe the number of casualties is much higher.

The head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Miroslav Jenča, told journalists today that consultations about an international presence were under way with the Kyrgyz Government, countries in the region and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU).

“There are stories about Uzbek people who are scared to death and do not want to allow access to any local authorities or the military because they are afraid that they will be harmed,” Mr. Jenca later told the UN News Centre.

Also today, the UN Human Rights Council called on the Kyrgyz Government to conduct a full and transparent probe into the violence.

In a resolution adopted by consensus, the Council “calls for a full and transparent investigation that holds perpetrators accountable for the loss of life in relation to the events of 7 April 2010.”

Mr. Jenča also called for a proper investigation, one led by the Kyrgyz Government and “as part of a reconciliation and confidence-building process,” but stressed that the UN’s priority at this time is to ensure proper humanitarian access to those most in need.

Due to security concerns, access to the conflict area remains difficult. Mr. Jenča and his team travelled yesterday with local authorities through the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, where restrictions on movement have forced the UN to rely on the Red Cross and other local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has spoken by phone with Kyrgyzstan’s interim President Roza Otunbaeva and Uzbek President Islam Karimov and told journalists today he would remain actively engaged on the issue to help efforts to restore calm to the region.

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today that a lack of access was hampering the UN agency’s ability to provide aid.

“We are concerned that we will be unable to easily and quickly distribute the supplies to the most affected,” said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF’s Head of Office, referring to 40 tons of life-saving water and sanitary supplies that are scheduled to arrive in Bishkek tomorrow.

Movement is also restricted in the southern city of Osh, where inter-agency assessment teams believe some people remain barricaded.

In total, at least 375,000 of the 5.2 million residents have fled the conflict in the region of Osh and Jalalabad. Of these, 100,000 or more have sought refuge in neighbouring Uzbekistan, where the UN and its partners have been stepping up their aid operations. The sixth relief flight into the country is expected to land at Andijan airport today. It will complete an initial airlift of relief supplies under way since Wednesday.

A separate humanitarian appeal for the response in Uzbekistan is expected next week.

In a related development, the first of two chartered cargo planes carrying aid is due to land tomorrow in Osh. Carrying 800 tents and other supplies, the plane will be part of an air-lift of aid for 15,000 people.

Along the border, water and sanitation remain challenges in the refugee settlements. For now, the settlements remain small and can be managed against communicable diseases, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said today in a briefing in Geneva.

WHO said its two major concerns are to address the health needs of women that had been subject to gender-based violence, and to deal with the special health needs of the elderly, women and children displaced in Uzbekistan.

UNICEF said 35 tons of emergency aid consisting of sanitation equipment would arrive in Bishkek tomorrow.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it has been able to move food from its warehouses to Osh and would increase its staffing there in coming days. So far, food has been distributed to 13,000 people.

In addition, there are also concerns about the safety of national UN staff working in Kyrgyzstan who identify with one of either ethnic group.


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