Out of concern for the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people in southern Kyrgyzstan, who have fled to rural areas, mosques and farms following days of brutal violence in the country, the Red Cross has launched a multi-country humanitarian response.
“Ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have escalated into violent clashes, including looting, arson attacks on public buildings and private residences, and targeted killings following the Central Asian country’s April elections,” said American Red Cross specialist Shavkat Ismailov, who spent several years working in neighboring Tajikistan. “The American Red Cross has committed an initial $50,000 from its International Response Fund and stands ready to deploy staff and relief supplies, if requested, as part of a joint humanitarian effort with other members of the global Red Cross network dealing with the crisis.”
Working together, the International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC – a Swiss-based humanitarian group mandated by the international community to provide assistance to people affected by armed conflict – and the country’s Red Crescent society have assisted 16 medical facilities by caring for more than 1,130 injured people in the past week. A lull in the shooting on Tuesday near Jalal-Abad also enabled a small team of ICRC doctors to visit the city's main hospital, where they provided additional medical supplies to local staff, who were treating approximately 60 wounded patients.
"Things have been a little calmer in Osh over the past 24 hours, even though tensions and fear are still running high, and the situation remains very volatile, especially in Jalal-Abad," said Séverine Chappaz, the ICRC's deputy head of mission in Kyrgyzstan. "We've been able to get a better idea of what's going on outside of Osh but we still don't know the full extent of the humanitarian impact of the fighting in the region. On a positive note, we welcomed the news that the Kyrgyz authorities have been able to secure an area in Osh, where they've been using helicopters to evacuate people who feel unsafe. We also know of 17 seriously wounded patients, who were able to be evacuated from Jalal-Abad to Bishkek."
According to the team on the ground, several hundred people have been killed in the fighting, although it's still too early to say precisely how many as a number of bodies have already been buried and may not have been identified or counted, while others remain uncollected.
The insecurity over the past six days has prevented many aid agencies from bringing staff and supplies into the area and the ICRC is working with the Kyrgyz Red Crescent and the authorities to determine the scope of the needs, what's available and what else is needed, as well as facilitate and coordinate the distribution of existing aid.
"We've been in touch with a mosque in Osh, where a volunteer doctor told us that 6,000 ethnic Uzbeks had sought refuge from one district of the city alone,” said Chappaz. “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."
The ICRC's first planeload of non-medical relief items arrived in Osh from the organization's logistics base in Amman, Jordan, late this afternoon. The supplies, which include blankets, tarps, cooking utensils, water containers and soap, will be distributed to 1,300 vulnerable families and will be followed by several more planeloads of similar items in the coming days.
Additionally, for the first time since the crisis started nearly a week ago, the ICRC was able to visit the main detention centre in Osh today 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.
The ICRC now has 25 staff in Osh, including 13 international emergency experts as well as 12 expatriate delegates in the capital, Bishkek, some of whom will be deployed to the south in the coming days. The American Red Cross has a regional delegation in Kazakhstan that is also available to support the response, if needed.