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UNICEF trucks supplies to ethnic Uzbeks fleeing violence in Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2010
Uzbekistan Ministry of Emergency Affairs trucks are loaded with UNICEF emergency supplies for refugees in the Feghana Valley, where thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled across the border from Kyrgyzstan.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 15 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.

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Despite appeals from UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations, the Uzbek Government closed its borders yesterday, 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,” Mr. Delmotte said in a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio after the border closure. He had just returned from the border area, 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. “The pressure was extremely high and people were fleeing very rapidly.”

Women, children and the elderly

The government reopened the border early this morning, admitting about 9,000 new arrivals. UNICEF estimates that more than 100,000 people have fled into Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan since late last week – and that 90 percent of the refugees are children, women and the elderly.

To date, more than 100 people are reported to have died and about 1,400 have been injured in the Kyrgyzstan fighting. The violence, directed at ethnic Uzbeks, has left homes burning, Uzbek-owned shops looted and bodies in the streets.

© AP Photo/Akkan
In the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Uzbek refugees fleeing an outbreak of ethnic violence wait to cross the border into Uzbekistan.

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.

Emergency relief

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.

© AP Photo/Ilyasov
Near the Uzbek village of Jalal-Kuduk, emergency workers and volunteers pass traditional flat bread to ethnic Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan.

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, seven trucks carrying UNICEF emergency supplies departed last night 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.




14 June 2010: UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Jean-Michel Delmotte gives a firsthand account of the refugee crisis unfolding on the border with Kyrgyzstan.
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