Kyrgyzstan: dealing with the long-term impact of violence
Almost four months after the violent clashes that shook southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, the ICRC is still hard at work in Osh and the surrounding area. Ishfaq Khan heads the ICRC's office in Osh. In this interview, he talks about the continuing impact of last June's violence.
After two years without a permanent presence in Osh, we had decided we should re-open an office there. Since early April we had been concerned about recurring violence in Kyrgyzstan, both in Bishkek and in the south, so we had already stepped up our presence in the south to monitor the situation and prepare for emergency response. In conjunction with the Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society, we'd pre-positioned first aid and surgical materials in April and in early June, so as to be able to respond quickly to medical needs.
Pre-positioning personnel and supplies meant that as soon as the violence started we were able to start caring for the sick and wounded and to provide food and water for more than 300,000 people. Within days following the violence, we focused on those who had fled their homes or had their houses destroyed.
How would you describe the situation during and just after the violence?
It was getting worse by the hour, with hospitals receiving more and more casualties. Tens of thousands of traumatized people were fleeing the fighting and looting, headed for other areas of Kyrgyzstan and for the border with Uzbekistan. Many sick and wounded people were afraid to use the hospitals because of the violence, and medical staff were attacked while trying to evacuate patients. The number of people displaced within Kyrgyzstan was easily in the tens of thousands, and on the Uzbek side of the border the authorities registered 75,000 adult refugees. One of our fears was that the clashes in Osh might spread to other areas of the country. The first hours and days were very worrying.
Are there still tensions in the south, even now?
Relations between communities remain tense, as the psychological wounds of the violence are still very fresh. In addition, there are over 50 cases of missing persons and the emotional burden of the families concerned is tremendous.
The number of people arrested and detained in relation to the violence has also increased. In that regard, the ICRC had been visiting people in places of detention throughout the country since 1999. Since the violence in June, the ICRC has been visiting people detained in relation to that situation, both in police stations and in remand facilities. In accordance with our standard procedures, ICRC delegates have been assessing detainee treatment and conditions of dete ntion in these places and have confidentially reported their findings to the authorities concerned.
The ICRC has also helped the authorities here in Osh with the renovation of the local SIZO (pre-trial isolation facility), improving the conditions of detention there.
What are the ICRC's current priorities in southern Kyrgyzstan?
Many people are still very vulnerable and very much in need of help. With winter approaching, relief operations are now focusing on providing shelter, although we are still providing food and water, and supporting medical facilities. Another priority is to trace missing persons and to pursue our confidential dialogue with the authorities on compliance with international rules during and after the violence.
At the request of the authorities, the ICRC agreed to be involved in the construction of 375 houses and shelters in Cheremushki and Furkat for people who lost their houses in June. Winter is approaching fast, but we will be doing all we can to improve living conditions for people who have been left homeless.
Longer term, we're going to be launching microeconomic programmes that will enable people to regain their economic independence. We'll be continuing to work with the authorities on repairing water, sanitation and forensic infrastructure, and we are preparing to hold surgical seminars for emergency medical staff.
During the coming months, we also intend to boost the emergency health capability of local services and of the Kyrgyz Red Crescent.
Finally, the ICRC will be stepping up its work with law-enforcement agencies, with the aim of ensuring compliance with international standards on the us e of force during internal violence.