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American Red Cross Doubles its Response to Central Asia Crisis

As the first planeload of aid dispatched by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) landed in eastern Uzbekistan today, the American Red Cross doubled its financial commitment to the multi-country humanitarian effort.

The American Red Cross has made a total of $100,000 available from its International Response Fund to help those who fled their homes following days of brutal violence in Kyrgyzstan. It also stands ready to deploy staff and relief supplies, if requested.

"The arrival of this first planeload is one of the initial steps in the urgent delivery of assistance to the tens of thousands of refugees who crossed the border (into Uzbekistan) over the past few days," said Pascale Meige Wagner, the ICRC's head of operations for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Another flight carrying humanitarian cargo, including 650 tents and 10 medical kits is planned for tomorrow.

Working together, the ICRC – a Swiss-based humanitarian group mandated by the international community to provide assistance to people affected by armed conflict – and the affected countries’ Red Crescent societies have been working around the clock since the earliest hours of this crisis.

The Uzbek Red Crescent, for example, has been erecting tents and distributing food, mattresses and clothes for refugees. Their colleagues in Kyrgyzstan are distributing aid in hospitals for the injured with the ICRC.

“The humanitarian situation is very alarming,” said Drina Karahasanovic, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society’s regional representative for Central Asia. “Thousands of people need food, shelter, water and healthcare immediately. The weather is scorching, and strong thunderstorms are predicted. We are especially worried about the wounded, the elderly, children and pregnant women. Urgent assistance is needed to stop diseases erupting, and to help people survive from day to day.”

The insecurity over the past week has prevented many aid agencies from bringing staff and supplies into the area. The global Red Cross and Red Crescent network is working with the authorities to determine the scope of the needs as well as facilitate and coordinate the distribution of existing aid.

"We've been in touch with a mosque in Osh (Kyrgyzstan), where a volunteer doctor told us that 6,000 ethnic Uzbeks had sought refuge from one district of the city alone,” said Séverine Chappaz, the ICRC's deputy head of mission in Kyrgyzstan. “Almost half of the people in the mosque are children and they're trying to survive off of food provided by a local farmer. In addition to food, they say they need insulin, IV fluids, syringes, antibiotics, soap and wound dressings as they are dealing with many burn victims."

Additionally, for the first time since the crisis started, the ICRC was able to visit the main detention centre in Osh on Wednesday and deliver food provided by the World Food Programme to around 1,000 detainees.

This period of unrest has led an estimated 300,000 residents to flee their homes, particularly in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalalabad. On the Uzbek side of the border, the authorities say there are now refugees staying in at least 40 makeshift camps, as well as factories, schools and parking lots, or with relatives in Uzbekistan. Most of them are women with children, bringing the total number of estimated refugees to more than 100,000, according to Uzbek officials.

Teams of international emergency experts are currently working on both sides of the border, and additional staff is expected in the region in the coming days. The American Red Cross has a regional delegation in Kazakhstan that is also available to support the response, if needed.