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Amidst violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, a mother and son seek refuge

© UNICEF, Kyrgyzstan

By Galina Solodunova

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan 16 June 2010 – At 3 a.m. last Sunday, Malika and her son Emil, 8, left their house in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. The moonless night concealed ruins and dead bodies scattered near their home. Caustic fumes spread from the burning houses, reminders of the atrocities that had been raging in the town for days.

Armed mobs overran the southern Kyrgyz city on 10 June, forcing more than 100,000 people – mostly women and children – to flee. To date, the Ministry of Health estimates that more than 1,800 people have been injured and 179 have been killed in the conflict.

Seeking refuge

Malika could not escape to the Uzbek border as her neighbours – ethnic Uzbeks – had done. She is Kyrgyz, but her ethnicity does not protect her. Knowing that she must care for herself and her son without outside help, she made the decision to go to a remote village high in the mountains to seek refuge with their relatives.

Weakened by fear and lack of food, Malika pulled herself together to cheer up Emil. Normally an inquisitive schoolboy, the child suddenly seemed locked in an inner world. He had been silent since the fighting began days earlier and had not asked questions about the sounds of gunfire or why they did not sit down at their table, as usual, to eat a meal.

By Sunday, he still had said nothing, only holding his mother’s hand tightly.

At dawn, Malika and Emil joined a small group of women and children walking in silence from Osh to an unknown destination. Seeing that she and her son were not alone, Malika felt a bit better – but the momentary respite did not last long.

© AP Photo/Akkan
A refugee holds a young boy in a newly set-up refugee camp near the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.

Measures to protect children

As the group walked through the morning light, the sudden sound of shooting forced them to scatter. Malika and Emil survived but, separated from the others, they were alone once more.

That evening, they were picked up by a passing car and finally reached the village of Chon Alai, where they spent another sleepless night talking about the events with their relatives. In the morning, they received basic humanitarian aid in the form of two kilos of flour and some oil. At noon, when the market in the centre of the village opened, Malika bought a ball for Emil. For the first time in a week, the child’s eyes were alight.

The toy is no substitute for home and stability, but it is the best Malika could do for her son. The rest will depend on Kyrgyzstan’s political climate and, as more relief arrives, the work of the government and international organizations.

UNICEF Representative in Kyrgyzstan Jonathan Veitch expressed deep concern about the situation of women and children in southern part of the country.

"UNICEF has received distressing reports, including photographs, of children being displaced, traumatized, separated from family members and even being killed," he said. "UNICEF urges all parties to take all necessary measures to protect children, who are always the most vulnerable in conflicts, and stresses that no children should be involved in conflict or participate in demonstrations."

 

 
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