Kyrgyz refugees facing medical shortages

The UN is warning that around 375,000 people displaced by ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan this month are facing a severe shortage of medical supplies.

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“Our primary worry is the medical needs of the population. Water and food shortages have decreased,” said UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs in a news conference.

Displaced communities had limited means and medical supplies were expensive while pharmacies were either shut or out of stocks, Byrs said.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said the number of displaced people stood at around 375,000 after the return of up to 100,000 refugees from neighbouring Uzbekistan last week.

Many of the displaced were unable to return to their homes as they had been destroyed in the violence. In some areas of Osh – the country’s second city and epicentre of the trouble – up to 95 percent of homes had been burned down, the UNHCR said.

UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres will travel to the Central Asian state on Wednesday and Thursday, and meet with interim President Roza Otunbayeva.

According to the most recent government figures, 294 people were killed in the violence but officials have warned the true death toll could have been as high as 2,000.

Victims claim the violence was an orchestrated campaign by armed Kyrgyz militias targeting Uzbeks, who make up about 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population of 5.3 million.

Red Cross meeting

The international Red Cross says it’s asked the President Otunbayeva to grant the agency access to all detainees held after the violence.

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), met Otunbayeva during a one-day visit to the capital, Bishkek, and the southern city of Osh.

“I discussed the humanitarian consequences of the recent violence with Ms Otunbayeva and asked her to grant the ICRC access to all persons arrested in connection with recent events,” Kellenberger said in a statement.

The ICRC said it had delivered food to 180,000 people during the fighting earlier this month.

“We are ready to continue our activities for as long as needed,” said Kellenberger.

“In particular, we stand ready to visit places of detention to assess the conditions in which the people arrested are being held and the treatment they receive,” he added.

The findings of such visits would be shared confidentially with Kyrgyz authorities in keeping with the agency’s rules, he underlined. The ICRC has been in Kyrgyzstan since 1999.

The senior Red Cross official also visited the village of Tashlak near Osh, where food, tents and hygiene kits are still being provided to displaced people.

“Even if the situation seems to have calmed down, many people still need help,” said Kellenberger.

“I saw elderly women with tears on their faces queuing to get tents to set up for shelter next to their burned-down houses. In the streets of Osh you can see many houses and shops that are completely destroyed. It will take some time until people can again lead normal lives.”

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