By Michelle Hough, communications officer for Caritas Internationalis
It’s only when something bad happens that we’re reminded of places which don’t usually feature high in our thoughts or on the news agenda. Many people probably don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan, and have even less idea why people are being killed in the streets at the moment.
There’s no national Caritas in Kyrgyzstan, but I phoned the Bishop of Bishkek this morning to offer the solidarity of the confederation ahead of a Caritas small team arriving in the country at the weekend.
“At the moment the situation is stalled and there’s no opening for dialogue,” said Bishop Nikolaus Messmer.
News reports say that almost 200 people have been killed and around 300,000 people injured in the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan over the past week.
The Holy See Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendia, told Vatican radio, “In Osh, there is a situation of absolute humanitarian catastrophe: There are no lights, no gas, no water and no food in the markets.”
Frustratingly, it’s not easy to find a precise reason why the violence broke out between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks. One report from 6th June – before the outbreak of violence – says residents of two villages on the border of a Kyrgyz-Uzbek enclave in the Ferghana Valley had clashed in a land dispute. Others trace the violence back to the instability caused by the president being overthrown in April.
How can a fight between two villages affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people? Leave cities smouldering and people running for their lives in fear? Deprive children of their parents? Leave people without homes for years to come and create yet another refugee crisis where people end up living in camps, relying on aid agencies and having no power over their lives and futures?
Even though Kyrgyzstan is being described as an “immense crisis”, the news cycle is already moving on. Meanwhile, World Refugee Day on Sunday reminds us that tens of millions of people are in refugee situations around the world just like the Uzbeks and Kyrgyzs. For many of us, complicated refugee situations in Colombia, Bhutan, Sudan, Liberia and many other places rarely feature in our thoughts.
“Let’s pray over the next few days that the situation calms down and the people start to receive aid,” says Bishop Messmer.
Yes we can pray. The Caritas team will also see in which other ways we can help when they arrive and will offer the solidarity of the confederation’s 165 member organisations. Aid agencies can take food, blankets, water, tents and hygiene kits to the refugees during the initial stage of the crisis. But how can we help create peace in the world when a fight between so few can lead to so many damaged lives?
Pope Paul VI said that with training and guidance that promotes economic progress people’s lives will get better in the long run.
“Then the bonds of solidarity will endure, even when the aid programmes are past and gone. It is not plain to all that closer ties of this sort will contribute immeasurably to the preservation of world peace?” said Pope Paul.