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Kyrgyzstan: Hardships Face Both Sides Of Ethnic Strife

The violence in Kyrgyzstan last month sparked an exodus of refugees into neighbouring Uzbekistan. But a smaller group of ethnic Kyrgyz fled in the opposite direction in fear of retaliation on the other side of the border. WFP is helping both communities cope in the aftermath.

OSH – At first glance, it’s like a summer camp; 15 tents set up in a shady garden with flower beds planted with cosmos and ox-eye daisies. Children are running around, seemingly without a care in the world. Only their mothers’ faces tell the real story.

A total of 33 families are living in those 15 tents, crammed together on narrow mattresses. Until the ethnic violence broke out in mid-June, they had been living in the Kyrgyz enclave of Barak, across the border in Uzbekistan. While tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbek refugees sought safe haven in Uzbekistan, this ethnic Kyrgyz community fled in the opposite direction.

wfp staff filling out food rationsEscaping across borders

Fearing for their lives, the entire village – more than a thousand people – fled across the border into Kyrgyzstan. Now, during the day, the men return to Uzbekistan to tend their fields and guard their houses, crossing back into Kyrgyzstan before nightfall. The eruption of ethnic tension has meant that for now they are too scared to return to their homes.

The families living at the camp in Aktash, some 25 km outside the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, have no idea what the future holds. “We cannot go home,” said Chinara, who fled to Aktash with her four children. “We would never feel safe again. But here we have nothing but the clothes we are wearing.”

The refugees have been in Aktash for the past two weeks. But WFP only learned of their plight on Friday from the Interim Government’s Special Representative for the Emergency, Aygul Ryskulova, who has been working to coordinate the humanitarian relief effort by the Kyrgyz Government and international aid organisations.

On Saturday, WFP loaded up a truck with High Energy Biscuits and distributed them among the families at the camp. This was merely an interim measure; if the families are to stay in Aktash, WFP will provide them with two-week rations of wheat flour, vegetable oil and beans.

a dilapidated building post violenceBoth communities affected

While most of the victims of the violence were ethnic Uzbeks, the Aktash camp is an example of how both communities have been affected. WFP has so far distributed food assistance to more than 280,000 people – Uzbeks and Kyrgyz – who have been affected by the violence in Osh. Find out more

The damage is spectacular, with whole streets burnt out and hundreds of houses reduced to rubble. For the past few days, the city has been relatively quiet, although sporadic bursts of gunfire can be heard at night. A 10:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew has been imposed by the authorities and even by late afternoon, the streets are deserted.

Even for those who were not directly affected by the violence, like the inhabitants of the Aktash camp, the fear of attacks has completely changed their lives.