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A humanitarian crisis is currently unfolding in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Roxane Henry - a member of ARC's Rapid Response team - sent this account back from Kyrgyzstan.
When we arrived in Bishkek last Sunday, I recognized immediately that there was something unusual here.
The streets are too quiet... too empty... too many shops are closed. People are staying in their homes. They’re afraid. They wait to see what will happen to their city, to their country.
But Kyrgyz people are strong. On Monday they went back to business as usual. But at dusk, instead of walking around in the park to take some fresh air, they just go straight home.
Arriving in Osh
Wednesday, our full team of emergency experts land in Osh where most of the troubles occurred. On the road from the airport to the city center, I recognize the traditional countryside town. Alleys of nice individual homes, painted in pale green or yellow, with fruits trees and small food stands where women sell some tomatoes, carrots, bread.
But again this same feeling... things are wrong. Where is the traditional grandfather usually taking sun in front of his house? Where is the grandmother? Where is the little boy playing at the fence?
Then we turn down the main street... and you start to see the scarface of this pleasant town. Buildings totally burned. Restaurants, shops, wedding halls, all burned. Just the walls, black with smoke are still standing.
The streets are totally empty. But the worst was still to come, when we enter the area where most of the attacks took place. It is no longer buildings that are destroyed, but individual family homes. House after house, street after street. The fire attacked every roof, every door, blew up all the windows. We are the only ones on the street. The city is a ghosttown.
Through what used to be a window, we see what used to be a kitchen. The fridge lay on the floor, tea cups smashed in pieces in the ashes of what use to be a kitchen.
The people who’ve lived in these houses generation after generation have just lost everything. The riot and the fires have taken everything away. And we meet those families who’ve lost everything. They are still in shock, they still don’t understand what happened to them.
We enter another devastated house. A man is there looking at the ground, staring at a pair of flip flops. He did not react when we entered, lost in his mind. When his friend called to him, he snapped back to the real world. Understanding who we are and why we were there, he starts to explain to us. The flip flop belonged to his 13 year-old son. He was killed, and he shows us the shape of his body marked on the floor. Then he goes back into his memories...
Families Helping Families
Families whose homes were untouched have welcomed victims to share their homes, their food, their clothes. Here, they already live 10 in a house – by tradition and financial necessity. Nevertheless, they’ve offered 1, 2, 3 other families to take refuge. They do it spontaneously because they are so generous in this country. They feel so sorry for their friends, relatives, neighbors who’ve lost everything.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia. How will these people be able to reach the same standard of living they used to have? They lost their home, their tools, their small businesses.
All those ideas were in the back of my mind, hoping the international community will provide us, the humanitarian workers, with enough funds to be able to help them. We have to be sure that no one will forget them, that we will give them exactly what they need the most.
What We’re Doing:
Our assessment team is on the ground in Kyrgyzstan, finding groups of people in need and combining efforts with local partner organizations to help.
We are in direct communication with the United Nations and other partner organizations working on the ground.
If the people uprooted by this conflict are not receiving all the support they need, we will respond to fill the gaps in humanitarian assistance.
Stay tuned for updates on our response in Kyrgyzstan.
Resources/Articles to learn more about Kyrgyzstan and this crisis: