UNICEF trucks supplies to ethnic Uzbeks fleeing violence in Kyrgyzstan
by Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 14 June 2010 – UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Jean-Michel Delmotte has described a chaotic situation as thousands of ethnic Uzbeks, mostly women and children, flee ethnic violence in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
AUDIO: Listen now
Despite appeals from UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations, the Uzbek Government today closed its borders, saying it couldn’t cope with the influx. UNICEF has sent several trucks with basic emergency aid for the refugees, including food, water, medical and sanitation supplies. More supplies are on their way.
“I’m very concerned that the authorities have closed the borders,” Mr. Delmotte said in a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio. He had just returned from the border, about 4 km from the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh, where much of the violence is centred.
“I saw barbed wire, and a hole in the barbed wire, and people fleeing, entering Uzbekistan,” said Mr. Delmotte. “Ninety-five per cent of them were women and children. The pressure was extremely high and people were fleeing very rapidly.”
Women, children and elderly
Upwards of 75,000 people have left Kyrgyzstan since fighting began late last week. More than 100 people are reported to have died and about 1,400 have been injured to date. The violence, directed at ethnic Uzbeks, has left homes burning, Uzbek-owned shops looted and bodies in the streets.
Camps have been set up to accommodate those who left Kyrgyzstan with no food and few belongings besides the clothes they were wearing when they fled.
Mr. Delmotte reported seeing several thousand refugees at the border, including more than 40 who were being treated for gunshot wounds. Most of those arriving are women, children and elderly people. Many Uzbek men reportedly have stayed behind in Kyrgyzstan to protect their property.
The main immediate problem in the refugee camps is the lack of safe water and sanitation, according to Mr. Delmotte. “I think the facilities that have been provided are not enough,” he said.
Although some drinking water remains available, media reports indicate that water-borne illnesses may already be spreading among the affected children. UNICEF is dispatching 900 packs of water-purification tablets and about 1,800 water containers as part of its initial assistance. And a technical assessment of the hygiene and sanitation needs of the refugee population is in the works.
Meanwhile, six trucks carrying UNICEF emergency supplies will depart tonight from Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, carrying some 2,200 blankets, 500 kitchen sets, 76 tarpaulin tents and emergency kits containing bandages, soap, personal hygiene products and other items. The UN refugee agency is also working to move shelter materials from its procurement hub in Dubai.