Kyrgyzstan violence: homeless already fear winter

Fire-damaged homes in Osh. In mid-June 2010, violence broke out in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Many homes were burned, people were killed, and thousands of people fled to the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Some have since returned to their burned-out homes and are living in their yards or porch areas. Others stayed with friends in houses away from the city. Caritas is responding to needs in Osh and Jalalabad. Credit: Laura Sheahen/CRS

By Laura Sheahen, Catholic Relief Services Communications Officer (CRS is a Caritas member)

At first it looks like a picnic—a group of men are sitting on a blanket on the sidewalk of a leafy neighbourhood. The only incongruity is that some of the leaves closer to the house gates are burned, curling blackly in on themselves.

The men aren’t picnicking; they’re eating on the side of the road because there’s nowhere else to eat. Their homes in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, were burned down during mob violence in June. They’re afraid to leave their neighbourhoods. So they’ve gathered unbroken crockery from their charred kitchens for a sparse meal of bread crusts and tea. Nearby, an elderly woman cooks potatoes outside using a makeshift wood stove and sticks.

“We sleep here in the yard,” says one of the men.

The people who burned their homes want them to leave. But “we were born here, we’ve lived here, our grandmothers and grandfathers lived here,” says another man. “We want to live here.”

Some families are staying with relatives or friends; one taxi driver is sleeping in a house that used to hold ten and now holds 17 people. Host families are already stretched, and with refugees returning from neighbouring Uzbekistan, finding a place to sleep is growing more difficult.

The question is how to rebuild the burned-out homes, and how fast. Though it’s hot now, everyone in this Central Asian country fears the winter. “October is hard, and by November it’s already 15 degrees below zero [5 degrees Fahrenheit],” says one man sitting on the blanket. Neighbours say the snow can reach 4 feet or more.

“We don’t know what to do,” says Umeeda, a mother of four. “What will we use to rebuild?” With all their possessions burned, most families don’t have enough money for food and clothes, much less construction material.

Caritas is working to provide transitional shelter that will get families through the coldest months.
“It may be rebuilding and winterizing one of two rooms of their houses,” says Andrew Schaefer, Emergency Team Leader for CRS in Kyrgyzstan (CRS is a Caritas member). “Insulation will be key.”

“The most important thing is a roof over our heads,” says a mother named Makhpuba. “Soon it will be winter.”

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Filed under Asia, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Kyrgyzstan, Peacebuilding

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