Mass returns of civilians reported amid tense but improving situation in Kyrgyzstan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the situation in the southern city of Osh, which was the focus of much of the violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks that began on 10 June, has improved with many small shops and banks opening up, and farmers from neighbouring provinces bringing in products.However, food, shelter, non-food items and hygiene kits remain important needs in the city, where the Government has registered a total of 2,200 tons of humanitarian relief. At the height of the crisis there were about 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kyrgyzstan as a result of the clashes, which also sent thousands fleeing into neighbouring Uzbekistan, where aid agencies have been assisting the Government in handing out relief items. OCHA noted that the Uzbek Government now estimates that there are 15,000 refugees on its territory, as opposed to previous figures of up to 100,000, and that those in the camps appear to have adequate shelter, water and food.UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told journalists today that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is attempting to verify the voluntary nature of the refugee returns from the Kyrgyz side of the border.“As always it is essential that, where people are returning, they are able to do so safely, voluntarily and in a sustainable manner,” he said. “We also urge that returns should happen foremost to areas that humanitarian agencies have access to.”Meanwhile, Kyrgyz authorities are calling for a speedy restoration of livelihoods and damaged homes and infrastructure. They are providing tents to those who were returning, including for those who wished to stay at their properties even though their houses were destroyed, OCHA said.According to the Kyrgyz authorities, 70,000 refugees have returned so far, and IDPs are also travelling back to their places of origin.Amid the mass returns from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan, UNHCR staff have been visiting groups of returning refugees and displaced people near Osh and Jalalabad. “Both refugees and IDPs have expressed to us mixed feelings about going home,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva. “Although they want to be reunited with their families, many are worried for their safety and about going back to destroyed, damaged or looted homes.”Mr. Edwards added that the agency is concerned about the voluntary nature of returns in some cases. “UNHCR’s view is that where people are returning, they should be able to do so on an informed basis and in conditions of safety, voluntariness, and sustainability,” he stated.The agency has four more relief flights into Osh, each bringing some 40 tons of urgently needed supplies, scheduled for this weekend.The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is continuing its distribution of supplies that had been airlifted into Kyrgyzstan in recent days, and is opening a field office in Osh to facilitate the emergency response. UNICEF spokesperson Jeremy Hartley told a news conference in Geneva that more emergency supplies will be airlifted into Andijan tomorrow and the Uzbek Government has agreed to facilitate trucking them into Osh as soon as possible. The agency continues to be concerned in particular about women and children who are on the move, many of whom are trying to return home, even to areas where homes have been destroyed. While most intended to stay with relatives or neighbours until their homes are rebuilt, there is now a significant need for temporary shelter, noted Mr. Hartley. 25 June 2010United Nations agencies today reported that the situation in Kyrgyzstan is relatively calm but still tense and that large numbers of those uprooted by the recent violence are returning to their homes, while adding that relief workers are still having difficulty reaching all those in need.