Romania: re-establishing contact between Uzbek families
Hundreds of families were separated by the upsurge in violence in the Ferghana Valley that ocurred in May 2005. So far, the ICRC has facilitated the exchange of more than 460 Red Cross messages comforting refugees forced to live far from their loved ones. Marcin Monko of the ICRC delegation in Budapest reports from Timisoara.
Since May 2005, more than four hundred refugees have found a safe haven in the outskirts of the Romanian town of Timisoara. Intensifying violence forced them to flee Uzbekistan, tearing their families apart and leaving hundreds without news of their relatives.
An old woman shows a notebook containing letters and children's drawings.
'The drawings were attached to a Red Cross message I received from my family in Andijan, my grandchildren drew them', she says. The notebook looks very worn and shabby. She looks at it often. It is probably the most valuable thing she has now – it is her only link to her family.
'These people left Uzbekistan after the violent events in Andijan on 13 May 2005', says Nargiza Dosmetova from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.'Hundreds of people escaped the town, walked all night and crossed the border to Kyrgyzstan'.
Once their refugee status was recognized, they were transferred to a reception centre in Timisoara. Romanian authorities have offered the refugees temporary asylum, until procedures for permanent resettlement to their final destinations are finalized. They are cooks, masons, shop-keepers, shoemakers, bakers, housewives and children from Andijan and the Ferghana Valley in the east of Uzbekistan. Last May they were simply bystanders: they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
'In the confusion of the May events, none of these people had time to say goodbye to their relatives, let alone take personal documents or basic necessities for the journey', says Svetlana Karapandzic, a UNHCR resettlement officer in Timisoara.'And they never expected the journey to be so long nor for it to send them so far away from their homes'.
The refugees declared that they were worried about their families'fate; and that they were also anxious to tell their relatives that they themselves were safe and sound. Yet, for most of the Uzbek refugees, there was no way to obtain information or send a message back home.
In early October, the first seventeen Red Cross messages were collected by an ICRC delegate from the families in Andijan and distributed to the refugees in Romania.
One man, a thirty year old construction worker who had to leave his wife and childre n in Adijan explains how happy he was to receive news from them.
'I learnt from a Red Cross message that my family is well, of course I'd like to know more, but it is at least reassuring'.
'I had never before received so much praise nor been so anxiously expected', says Cristina Lordache , a tracing officer at the Romanian Red Cross, who distributed the first letters to the refugees.
'For them I represented the missing link with their families. This was the only way they could get in touch with their relatives, thousands of kilometres away'.
One refugee, a thirty-two year old cook, said he met his relatives when he was still in Kyrgyzstan but then all links were broken. Most refugees had no contact with their families until they got a letter delivered by the ICRC.
'It is reassuring to hear that my family is OK and that they too are reassured and know where I am and that I'm well', he says.
In 2004, the ICRC collected and distributed 1,362,358 Red Cross messages throughout the world.