Kyrgyzstan: ICRC shifts gear

07-04-2011 Interview

The ICRC is shifting from emergency to recovery activities in Kyrgyzstan. When violence erupted in June 2010, it was among the first humanitarian organizations to respond. Almost 10 months later, Christoph Hartmann, who heads the ICRC delegation in Bishkek, comments on the current situation.

What is the situation like today?

Although things have calmed down and life has regained some level of normality, the situation remains fragile and the legacy of the events is still keenly felt. This is not surprising, as inter-ethnic violence leaves deep marks. Fear of renewed violence and mistrust between the communities are still palpable. The fragility of the situation is exacerbated by persistent economic decline, social and economic inequality and the steady deterioration of infrastructure.

Because of the violence, hundreds of people lost their property, businesses and other sources of income, and many still find it difficult to make ends meet. Some families lost their breadwinners. A number of people remain unaccounted for, and their relatives continue to live under the immense psychological stress of not knowing what happened to them. In addition, many people were arrested in connection with the events, and some of them remain in custody even now.

What are you doing to help?

We are taking micro-economic initiatives to help people who lost their income because of the violence to rebuild their livelihoods. These income-generating projects enable families affected by the violence to open small businesses in a sector of their choice. This year, we are planning to support up to 500 such projects. I would like to stress that the selection of beneficiaries is based exclusively on need and not on political, ethnic or other grounds.

We have also offered to help the authorities in their efforts to clarify the fate of those unaccounted for and to provide answers for the families. Collecting ante-mortem data for the purpose of matching them with post-mortem data could, we think, be a useful complement to the DNA testing currently used by the authorities to identify mortal remains. Meanwhile, we have provided families who lost a breadwinner as a result of the June 2010 events with essential supplies, and obtained detailed information on their socio-economic, legal, psychological and other needs. We are sharing the information with the authorities to enable them to take appropriate action.

Our delegates continue to visit detainees, including those arrested in connection with the June 2010 events, in order to assess the conditions in which they are being held and the treatment they receive. Between June 2010 and March 2011, we visited detainees in 25 places of detention in Osh, Jalalabad and Batken provinces. We give detainees the opportunity to write Red Cross messages, containing brief family news, to their relatives. Where appropriate, we provide supplies and upgrade sanitary facilities and ventilation systems to improve living conditions for detainees. In addition, we maintain regular dialogue with law-enforcement authorities on arrests, detention and the use of force.

Alongside other partners within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, we continue to help the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan to enhance its emergency preparedness. We also offer opportunities for Kyrgyz medical staff to sharpen their skills through exchanges with experienced ICRC war surgeons.

What difference have your activities made so far?

Let me give just one example. Many houses were burnt down or otherwise damaged in the violence, and thousands of people were left without shelter. Many had to live in tents. The winter is quite severe in the region and it was absolutely vital that these people move to warm places before the first frosts. The challenge for us was enormous: we had to finish the partial reconstruction of over 360 houses, started in mid-September, by December at the latest. And we managed. It was such a relief to see some 3,000 people move to two- or three-room houses, well protected from winter cold.

Let me emphasize that many of the activities I've just mentioned are carried out in close cooperation with local authorities and other organizations, in particular our main partner, the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan.



Christophe Hartmann

Furkat and Cheremushki, Osh. People from the area take part in building work at the start of the shelter programme in September and October 2010. 

Furkat and Cheremushki, Osh. People from the area take part in building work at the start of the "shelter" programme in September and October 2010.

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