News / Europe

UN Reports Life in Uzbek Refugee Camps as Miserable

United Nations aid agencies describe conditions for refugees who have fled into Uzbekistan from ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan as appalling.   They say overcrowding and sizzling temperatures are making life miserable for thousands of Uzbek refugees. 

Since ethnic clashes erupted on June 11, more than 30 airplanes loaded with relief supplies have arrived in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.  

And, while these supplies are meeting essential needs, UN aid agencies say life for people on both sides of the border remains difficult and tense.

The UN refugee agency estimates some 100,000 refugees have fled Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan.  Most of them are women, children, and the elderly.

Aid arrives

UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, says the agency has airlifted 240 tons of aid to Uzbekistan, including tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and other basic supplies. 

"The Uzbek authorities tell us there are now more than 50 sites hosting refugees along the border.  From our meetings with refugees so far it is clear that many are still struggling to deal with family separations during the flight from southern Kyrgyzstan.  We spoke to one elderly woman who told us she was returning to Osh to find her daughter and new born grandchild who had been left behind in a building basement in the rush to escape.  We are seeing similar tales," he said. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports seeing large numbers of people returning to Jalalabad.  And, the Kyrgyz Frontier Service reports more than 7,500 refugees have returned over the past couple of days.

The UN Children's Fund says a convoy carrying 40 tons of supplies arrived in Osh Tuesday morning, right after delivering relief items in Jalalabad.

UNICEF regional officer, John Budd, says the supplies include obstetric kits, medicine for treating 10,000 children with diarrheal diseases, and water and sanitation gear.  

He says more supplies are being airlifted into Osh on Wednesday and two cargo planes with emergency supplies will arrive in Andijan, Uzbekistan on Wednesday or Thursday.

Overcrowding leads to tension

Budd says tensions are rising in Uzbekistan due to overcrowding in the camps.  He says children are in particular need of protection against dehydration because of the increasing heat.

"We have great concern about water and sanitation in the refugee camps," Budd said. "There is one toilet per 120 people.  Bottled water is currently being provided for drinking in the camps and this is not sustainable.  And, already there are indications that water will be in short supply in the coming days as well as an increased risk of water-born communicable diseases, particularly among babies and children.  Privacy is an issue for breast-feeding women and they need special support for exclusive breast-feeding."  

Budd says UNICEF and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation conducted an assessment last week, which shows the number of drinking water points in the camps needs to be doubled.

He says children between the ages of one and 15 will be vaccinated against measles and rubella.  He says UNICEF has just finished vaccinating 52,000 children against polio.

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