Clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz groups in southern Kyrgyzstan since 10 June have killed at least 170 people, injured 1,762 and forced 300,000 to flee their homes, according to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health and UN agencies.
Among the 300,000 displaced are about 75,000 ethnic Uzbeks who have crossed the border into Uzbekistan and registered as refugees, according to Uzbek authorities. Some estimates put the number as high as 100,000, mostly staying in 75 camps around Andjian, Uzbekistan’s fourth-largest city some 50km northwest of Osh, which is just 5km from the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border and was the starting point for the violence.
Uzbek authorities are allowing only the elderly, women and children under the age of 18 into the country for what they say are security reasons.
Reports suggest tens of thousands of Uzbeks are still waiting to cross the border.
“We fear that unless peace and order is restored swiftly more people could be displaced as they flee to the countryside or try to cross the border to Uzbekistan,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said in a press briefing in Geneva on 15 June.
There are some 825,000 ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, about 15 percent of the country’s 5.5 million people. Edward Luck, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the responsibility to protect, said the mass displacement of Uzbeks "could amount to ethnic cleansing”.
UN political chief B. Lynn Pascoe and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes on 15 June called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to allow the UN and others to bring in aid.
“It is essential that the safety and security of humanitarian staff is assured so that we can reach all those in need. It is also vital that the border with Uzbekistan remains open. We welcome Uzbek generosity to those crossing the border and hope that this can continue,” Holmes said, adding that flash appeals were being prepared for the displaced in Kyrgyzstan and refugees in Uzbekistan.
Interactive map showing Osh in Kyrgyzstan and Andjian in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan has requested assistance from UNHCR to meet the needs of the refugees.
“At the request of the Uzbek authorities, the first UNHCR-chartered flight will be loaded with 800 lightweight tents to meet rapidly growing shelter needs,” Mahecic said on 15 June.
That plane, along with another loaded with humanitarian supplies from the agency’s central stockpiles in Dubai, landed at Andijan airport in Uzbekistan on the afternoon of 16 June.
They were the first of six UNHCR cargo flights planned before the end of the week delivering 240MT of blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting for emergency shelters, which will be delivered by truck to various sites hosting refugees in coordination with the Uzbek government.
“We appreciate the cooperation we’re seeing on the part of the Uzbek government in getting this vital assistance through to those in need,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said on 16 June. “This is a dramatic and rapidly developing refugee situation. The help is urgently required.”
Poor camp conditions
According to local media reports, Uzbek border guards allowed the initial flood of ethnic Uzbeks arriving at the border to enter and stay with friends or relatives in nearby villages. But as of 15 June, refugees were being forced to stay in tented camps guarded by police in what was said to be a move designed to keep track of the refugees while preventing undocumented resettlement in Uzbekistan.
Conditions in the makeshift camps are said to be poor.
"There are already reports of dysentery spreading among children in the camps. The Uzbek government is struggling to address the needs but has been overwhelmed by the enormous population influx. The greatest need right now is for food items, hygiene kits and medical supplies," said Malika Mirkhanova, International Medical Corps Regional Coordinator for Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East.