VIOLENCE SUBSIDES IN KYRGYZ SOUTH  Refugees say it’s too early to consider 
going back, and if they do they may find their homes burnt to the ground  By 
Ainagul Abdrakhmanova, Beksultan Sadyrkulov, Ilya Lukashov, Isomiddin Ahmedjanov

with any more than the 80,000 it has already let in.  By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova

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Refugees say it’s too early to consider going back, and if they do they may 
find their homes burnt to the ground

By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova, Beksultan Sadyrkulov, Ilya Lukashov, Isomiddin 

Violence in southern Kyrgyzstan appears to be subsiding following days of 
clashes in Osh and Jalalabad, but most agree the situation remains highly 

As widespread rioting and violence petered out, attention turned to the 
mounting humanitarian crisis facing the population of southern Kyrgyzstan, 
especially ethnic Uzbeks displaced from their homes,

Three days of national mourning were declared on June 16 to commemorate the 
victims of violence that began in Osh overnight on June 10-11 and spilled over 
into neighbouring Jalalabad region. The Kyrgyz health ministry said 187 people 
died and more than 1,900 required medical treatment.

A special envoy sent by neighbouring Kazakstan in its current capacity of chair 
of the OSCE, Zhanybek Karibzhanov, said, “The situation is fragile and could 
easily take a turn for the worse”.

Speaking at a June 15 press conference which he gave together with United 
Nations and European Union envoys in Bishkek, Karibjanov said they had 
discussed the humanitarian situation in the south, in particular the need to 
help the refugees who fled the fighting.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Makhechich, said 
the same day that 275,000 people had been displaced, including 75,000 who had 
entered Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan’s national security service said on June 16 that the trend in Osh 
and surrounding areas was towards greater stability. But in the same daily 
update, the agency said the armed groups that had provoked the violence in the 
first place were continuing attempts to cause trouble and sow panic.

Police and security-service officers mounted joint patrols, searching cars for 

Gunshots were heard in Osh late on June 15, but residents told IWPR this seemed 
to involve soldiers firing warning shots into the air.

In Jalalabad as well as Osh, people appeared on the streets again for the first 
time in days, but many still ventured out only to fetch food and water.

Jalalabad resident Natalya Rudenko, who is a market trader, told IWPR the night 
of June 15-16 was the first without shots being heard.

There was limited trading at the local market and some bakeries reopened, but 
the shops were still closed, she said.

Rudenko added that people were keeping windows closed because of the strong 
smell of burning.

The authorities admit that humanitarian aid is still inadequate in Osh. Only “a 
drop on the ocean” is getting through, according to Aigul Ryskulova, appointed 
by the government to help the refugees.

In central parts of Osh, aid began reaching people who had remained at home 
throughout the violence. Consignments are delivered daily, but not everywhere. 
Some areas of the city cannot be reached because of roadblocks erected by 

Rudenko said that three families in her block of flats, seven people in all, 
had so far received one loaf of bread, one kilogram of flour and the same 
amount of cooking oil. That might not be much, but she said, “We are lucky – 
others are getting even less.”

Another resident, who gave her name as Mahpirat, told IWPR that when there was 
a delivery of flour in the neighbourhood, there was not enough to go round, and 
people were turned away empty-handed.

“Many people were crying when they got back,” she said.

In the face of such difficulties, many Osh residents are demonstrating 
community spirit. An IWPR reporter witnessed how in one neighbourhood, all the 
residents pooled the flour distributed to families. It was then baked into 
bread and distributed equitably.

Despite the uneasy calm, people continued to leave, mainly for the border with 
Uzbekistan in hope of being allowed to cross, while others went northwards to 
the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, or into mountainous areas where they hoped to find 
temporary safety. (See Desperate Refugees Wait on Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border on the 
refugee situation along the Uzbek border.)

Housewife Gulbarchyn told IWPR that in her neighbourhood of Jalalabad, all the 
Uzbeks had left. They accounted for 70 per cent of the area’s population, 
although the area in fact escaped the violence relatively unscathed.

“On the day it all started in Jalalabad [June 13], two groups of people rushed 
through our street and gunfire was heard. But fortunately, apart from that, 
there were no further incidents round here,” she said.

“All the Uzbeks left, concealing their livestock,” she said, adding that it was 
now hard to get milk and bread because it was mainly Uzbeks who sold these.

Small numbers of refugees have been seen coming back, mainly those whose homes 
have escaped arson attacks.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader Roza Otunbaeva has said the nationwide referendum 
scheduled for June 27 is to go ahead as planned. The vote will determine the 
fate of a new constitution seen as the most democratic the country has ever had.

Her decision has come in for some criticism from politicians who argue it is 
unrealistic to conduct a ballot so soon after devastating levels of violence, 
and that doing so could provoke more trouble.

Residents of the south told IWPR that voting in a referendum was the last thing 
on their minds given the trauma they had just lived through.

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist; Beksultan Sadyrkulov is a 
pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan; Ilya Lukashov and Isomidin Ahmedjanov 
are freelance reporters.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central 
Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the 
European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and 
Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no 
way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign 
Ministry of Norway.


Tashkent says it cannot cope with any more than the 80,000 it has already let 

By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova

The government of Uzbekistan says it has taken in over 80,000 refugees fleeing 
ethnic clashes in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, but cannot allow any more into the 
country for now.

Tens of thousands more are waiting on the Kyrgyz side of the border, most of 
them ethnic Uzbeks terrified by days of attacks and arson.

As of June 16, the Kyrgyz health ministry said 187 people died and over 1,900 
required medical treatment following fighting between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which 
began in Osh overnight on June 10-11 and spread to the neighbouring Jalalabad 

Uzbek officials says the hastily-established refugee camps are already 
overcrowded. They say they have given sanctuary to 83,000 people as of June 15, 
according to the Uzbek ministry for emergency situations, quoted by the Russian 
news agency RIA-Novosti.

Speaking the day before, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullo Oripov said the exodus 
from Kyrgyzstan had to stop.

"Today we are ceasing to accept refugees from the Kyrgyz side because we have 
nowhere to accommodate them and we are unable to cope with them on our own," 
Oripov said on a visit to the border.

He said the Uzbek authorities had set up 30 camps with its own resources, but 
needed international humanitarian aid to help deal with the refugee crisis.

"If we have the capacity to help them and provide treatment for them, then of 
course we will open the border," he added.

AFP news agency quoted Uzbek officials as saying despite the border closure, 
the country would still let injured, sick and elderly refugees through three 
designated checkpoints.

IWPR has learned that police in Andijan region detained a group of people who 
had crossed without permission, and placed them in custody in Jalakuduk.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Kyrgyzstan, Andrej 
Mahecic, said 275,000 people had been displaced. Speaking on June 15, Mahecic 
said the overall number included 75,000 who were now refugees in Uzbekistan.

Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross gave a slightly 
higher figure of 80,000 for the people now inside Uzbekistan.

Ibrohim, a resident of Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan, came to a nearby border 
checkpoint to pick up relatives from Kyrgyzstan who had managed to cross over.

He confirmed accounts given by other refugees that even before the border was 
closed, the Uzbek authorities were reluctant to let male adults cross the 

“They look at their [Kyrgyzstan] passports, and if it says they are Uzbek [by 
ethnicity], then they let them in - mostly women, elderly people and children,” 
he said.

Ibrohim said security was tight and refugee collection points were being 
guarded by the police and security service, a marked change from the first 
couple of days of unrest, when people were able to enter the camps to look for 

He said that in the confusion as people were bused around to different camps, 
some refugees were losing contact with family members who had fled along with 

Once housed in camps, schools and other buildings, he said, the refugees were 
being taken care of and were receiving help from local people as well as from 
the Uzbek authorities.

“Everything is being organised and prepared for people, and there are cooks to 
prepare food,” he said. “They are being fed well and given all the basic 
necessities including baby nappies.”

Local Uzbeks were opening their own homes to provide accommodation, and making 
up food parcels and getting border guards to deliver them to refugees still 
stranded on the Kyrgyz side.

Over on the Kyrgyz side of the frontier, an IWPR reporter met up with Murat, a 
man from Bazar-Korgan interviewed earlier in the week.

He and his family were just about to spend their second night after failing to 
get over the border into Uzbekistan. With nowhere to sleep, he was able to find 
refuge in a local mosque.

“This morning we went up to the border again, and soldiers on the Uzbek side 
were shouting through loudspeakers that they were unable to accept the 
remaining refugees and they asked us to go home,” he said. “Now they aren’t 
letting anyone in, but no one here has moved.”

He described conditions for the refugees as difficult.

“Yesterday we were hungry and some local people gave us bread, but it wasn’t 
enough for everyone, and we ate the little food we had brought with us.”

Analysts say Uzbekistan’s decision to halt the flow of refugees is partly for 
security reasons, as well as the difficulty of absorbing such large numbers.

Until the refugees started arriving on June 12, the frontier had been closed 
for two months because the Uzbek authorities were concerned at the popular 
unrest on April 6-7 which led to the then Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev 
being deposed.

In an official statement on the ethnic clashes on June 12, Tashkent expressed 
concern that killings, looting and arson attacks were directed specifically 
against the Uzbek community of southern Kyrgyzstan and urged that country’s 
authorities to put a stop to the violence.

According to Bishkek-based political analyst Mars Sariev, “Uzbekistan fears 
that there’s a danger these events will spill over onto its own territory. It’s 
difficult to control such large numbers of people in the border area. ”

In addition, Sariev said, Uzbekistan was sending a strong message to the Kyrgyz 
interim government that the crisis was its problem, and “we should sort this 
mess out ourselves”.

The Kyrgyz authorities have begun efforts to persuade the refugees that it is 
now safe to return to their homes. Deputy prime minister Almazbek Atambaev has 
asked them to come back, and Joomart Saparbaev, an aide to deputy prime 
minister Omurbek Tekebaev, said the authorities were negotiating with leaders 
of both Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities to facilitate a return.

So far, the refugees still inside Kyrgyzstan remain unconvinced by such 
assurances, and are staying put just even though conditions are difficult, with 
no food or accommodation and a widespread fear that they may come under attack, 
especially under cover of darkness.

Some of those whose homes have been burnt down have nowhere to go back to, 

“Of course we are planning to return to Osh – but where to? Our house has been 
burnt down,” one refugee, who did not want to give his name, told IWPR. “I hope 
there will be some kind of temporary accommodation, but who is going to rebuild 
my house?”

Murat said he too was unconvinced by requests to go home.

As with many other Uzbek families, his father stayed behind in Bazar-Korgon to 
prevent their home being looted or torched. He said his father called him 
saying they should not come back for a couple of days at least. Their house, 
some way far from the central part of the town, was still intact, but those of 
some near neighbours had been set on fire.

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist and Beksultan Sadyrkulov is 
a pseudonym for a reporter in Bishkek.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central 
Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the 
European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and 
Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no 
way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign 
Ministry of Norway.

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