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Kyrgyzstan: Aid Worker Describes Refugee Conditions

  • Charles Recknagel --> Some 500 Uzbek refugees who have fled Andijon are gathered in a camp on the Kyrgyz side of the Karadariya River. RFE/RL talked today to Bob Deen, the representative in Osh for ACTED, a Paris-based NGO, about conditions in the camp. [For more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan --> /specials/uzbek_unrest/ ]

Prague, 19 May 2005 (RFE/RL) – Bob Deen is the representative in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, for ACTED, a Paris-based NGO that delivers emergency assistance in needy areas.

RFE/RL telephoned Deen in Osh today and asked him to describe conditions at the refugee camp in Karadariya. ACTED is providing food and other assistance there after receiving a 50,000 dollar grant from the U.S. government aid agency, USAID, earlier this week through the American Embassy in Bishkek.

RFE/RL: Where specifically is the camp where you are providing assistance?

Deen: "We are officially in charge of only one refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan which is the camp in Karadariya in Suzak Raion, Jalal-Abad Oblast. It is a camp with approximately 540 refugees. Now these people came the night of Friday and Saturday [13-14 May] and I first visited the camp on Sunday [15 May]. On Sunday we surveyed and assessed the situation, we met with the local donor, the USAID, that is, local representatives of the Americans, and on Monday [16 May] we finalized a grant and on Tuesday I went back to the camp with the first aid shipment, Tuesday morning.”

Deen noted that the grant for the sum of $50,000 was made based on early expectations that more refugees might come to the camp -- something that has not happened.

RFE/RL: Will the refugees be able to stay for an extended period in Kyrgyzstan?

Deen: “That is the crucial question at the moment. My impression is that the Kygyz government has not completely made up its mind and is confused itself. We have had reports coming from very high levels, through the United Nations, that the camp at the present site, which is absolutely inadequate, allow me to say, will be moved so these people will have a better location to stay for a longer period -- period, of course, being indefinite because [no one has said] how many days. But local authorities on the ground in charge of the camp haven’t heard anything of this order to move and it is all tied up with the status of these people, whether they are refugees, asylum seekers, or even dangerous extremists, maybe, who would have to be sent back.”

RFE/RL: Does there seem to be any progress toward making a decision?

Deen: “The decision is being discussed in the Kyrgyz parliament, I was told yesterday by the local Ministry of Emergency Siutations. It has to be decided, I think, at the Bishkek level what will happen to these people and, as it is a very sensitive decision, it might take them a while.”

RFE/RL: From your talks with the refugees, who are they and why did they come?

Deen: I had my last interview with them Tuesday afternoon [17 May]. I spoke with quite a large group and they told me stories, interestingly enough, mainly of economic reasons why they took to the streets in Andijon. These people, these 500 people, the vast majority in my view, according to themselves as well, are original participants in these demonstrations who were directly involved in the companies the leaders of which were arrested by the Uzbek authorities on charge of religious extremism. I spoke to one man who was an employee of one of the companies and most of them were either employees or relatives of the people who were arrested.”

Deen also said that there were between 10 and 20 wounded people among the refugees who have since been taken to hospitals in Kyrgyzstan in Jalal-Abad Oblast.

RFE/RL: Is there a Kyrgyz security presence in the camp?

Deen: “These people are being held in a very tight, small area, a ditch in fact, that they are not allowed to leave. And it is surrounded by armed Kyrgyz soldiers of the regular army. There are three [security] presences in the camp: the border guards, the Kyrgyz Army, and the Interior Ministry that is currently interviewing or, at least, assessing the individuals to separate possible ex-convicts, people who had escaped the Andijon jail, religious extremists, and refugees."

RFE/RL: Could you describe the camp in greater detail?

Deen: “When these people came across the border they crossed a bridge over the Karadariya [River] and they were basically at that point taken by the Kyrgyz border authorities and put in this ditch and tents were set up for them. These are tents suitable for 15 people each. So, there is reasonable accommodation for 150 people, in which they put 520 to 540 people. That’s the first problem. The second problem in our view is that since this area is lower than the surrounding ground it might be out of the wind but these people, basically, if it rains, you can imagine what happens. And sanitary faculties before we arrived were very inadequate in the sense that they were higher than the camp was and [human waste] would flow into the camp, and we have provided tools and plastic sheeting with USAID funding to construct more proper latrines.”

Deen said that fresh water is brought in by fire truck from a nearby village daily. The Red Cross has set up a message service in the camp allowing relatives from outside to contact family members inside.

Click here for a gallery of images from the violence in eastern Uzbekistan on 13-14 May.

Click here for a map of the Ferghana Valley region.

See also:

What Really Happened On Bloody Friday?

Where Does Crisis Go From Here?

Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs

Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon

Background: Banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Faces Dwindling Appeal, Internal Divisions

Interview: Opposition Leader Tells RFE/RL About 'Farmers' Revolution'