United Nations relief agencies are dispatching emergency aid and staff to Central Asia, where tens of thousands of refugees have crossed into Uzbekistan as they flee several days of deadly ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan.
More than 75,000 ethnic Uzbeks are estimated to have fled Kyrgyzstan since Friday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today, citing figures from the Government of Uzbekistan.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is preparing to deploy both aid supplies and staff with experience in dealing with emergencies, such as field officers and logistics experts, to help the new arrivals in Uzbekistan. The aid will be sent from the agency's stockpile in Dubai.
More than 110 people are confirmed to have died and at least 1,300 others are injured as a result of the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that erupted last week. The southern Kyrgyz city of Osh has been the worst affected by the violence, but there have been reports of widespread killing, looting and marauding in Jalalabat and several rural districts as well.
OCHA reported that the majority of residents in the ethnic Uzbek neighbourhoods of Osh has either abandoned their homes or barricaded themselves inside.
“We are very grateful for the willingness of the Uzbek authorities to welcome and receive people fleeing violence in Kyrgyzstan,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement.
“We have agreed with the Uzbek Government to support their efforts and assist tens of thousands, mostly women and children, seeking safety.”
Kyrgyzstan has been wracked by unrest this year and in early April a violent uprising ousted the then president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
This evening the Security Council issued a press statement condemning the violence in Kyrgyzstan and calling for a return to the rule of law as soon as possible.
In the statement, read out by Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month, the 15-member panel said it would continue to monitor the situation closely.
Earlier, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Council on the latest developments in Central Asia.
He said the UN expects to launch a flash appeal later this week for people affected by the violence and unrest, with shortages of food, water and electricity all reported.
Mr. Pascoe stressed that it is vital to open a humanitarian corridor in Kyrgyzstan so that UN agencies and other aid providers can deliver assistance as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged local and national authorities in Kyrgyzstan “to take swift and decisive action to protect citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin, and curb the violence.”
Ms. Pillay was she was disturbed by the scale of the violence and the inter-ethnic nature of the attacks.
“It seems indiscriminate killings, including of children, and rapes have been taking place on the basis of ethnicity. This is a very dangerous situation, given the ethnic patchwork in this part of Kyrgyzstan, as well as in neighbouring areas of Uzbekistan.
“It has been known for many years that this region is a potential tinder-box, and for that reason it is essential that the authorities act firmly to halt the fighting – which appears to be orchestrated, targeted and well planned – before it spreads further.”
Some media reports have suggested that authorities in southern Kyrgyzstan have adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in the wake of the violence, and Ms. Pillay stressed that this is not the answer.
“A state of emergency has been declared, and this is probably a necessary decision in the circumstances. However, the right to life and the right not to be tortured cannot be set aside during an emergency. Security forces need to be given strict instructions to avoid unnecessary force, and to steer clear of taking sides in the conflict, while still doing their utmost to bring an end to the violence.”
For her part, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, expressed her concern over reports that children are being killed, maimed and displaced during the clashes, calling on all parties to show restraint.
“Children are particularly vulnerable and have no place in conflict,” she stressed. “I ask for humanitarian aid to focus on the young at risk of physical and psychological trauma and I will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has also issued a statement voicing deep concern about the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan.
“UNICEF has received distressing reports, including photographs, of children being displaced, traumatized, separated from family members, and even being killed,” the agency 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.”
The agency has sent emergency supplies – including tents, blankets, health kits, kitchen sets and water purification tablets – to those who have fled the fighting sheltering in the Fergana Valley near the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The Uzbek Government has opened schools and colleges to accommodate refugees – the vast majority of whom are women, children and the elderly – streaming out of Osh and Jalalabad since the fighting started last week.
Over the weekend, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is conducting an official visit to Africa, conferred by telephone on the situation in Kyrgyzstan with Kanat Sauabayev, the Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE).
Miroslav Jenča, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), visited Osh a week ago and is also holding discussions with the envoys of the OSCE and the European Union (EU).