Minadjan Inamova lies listlessly on the floor in a dark room, clutching the hand of her one-year-old son. She raises her head now and then to let out a rasping cough as her mother-in-law, Zamira Inamova, watches anxiously, holding a neighbor’s baby in her arms.
The women have fled ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan’s largest city, Osh, and are staying in a relative’s house in the village of VLKSM, a few hundred meters from the closed border with Uzbekistan.
In this six-room house clustered around a leafy courtyard, 50 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Osh’s Shark district have found temporary refuge -- neighbors of the Inamov family who have nowhere else to go.
Zamira Inamova says her daughter-in-law is in shock from the violence that forced them to flee. She also has an undiagnosed ailment, but is not a priority for medical attention. The small clinic in the village is short of supplies and is busy treating more serious cases.
United Nations officials in Bishkek estimate that 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks have fled across the border to Uzbekistan, but 300,000 remain internally displaced within Kyrgyzstan. Overall, the organization says one million people may need humanitarian aid. IDP population estimates in VLKSM are approximate at best, but local people suggest 20,000 have sought shelter in the village. In one house, 200 people are staying, said a woman who fled Shark in a lorry with the Inamovs.
The pressure on local resources is enormous. Villagers are struggling to feed the incomers, driving supplies in from Osh. But the journey – though short – is fraught with difficulties. Ethnic Uzbeks take long detours to stay in areas they believe to be safe, and they fear passing through checkpoints manned by Kyrgyz troops.
On June 17 supplies arrived in VLKSM. In total, the group of 50 IDPs with the Inamovs received one onion, 12 potatoes and eight carrots.
Zamira Inamova points to her second grandson, Abdulvasit, who is about to turn three. “It’s his birthday tomorrow,” she says, choking back a sob. “How are we going to celebrate that?”
Water supplies are also a problem. “When we went for water this morning there was a tiny bit in the tap, then it finished,” said 13-year-old Osman Aliyev, who is from an ethnic Azeri family which fled Shark along with the Uzbeks when the attackers came on June 12.
“Look at this, it’s just tea,” Zamira Inamova says, pointing to the baby’s bottle. “We’ve only got tea and water to give the children. We’ve got no diapers, nothing.”
International organizations have distributed some supplies but -- with the situation in and around Osh still tense -- efforts are hampered by security concerns.
“We’re desperately trying to establish some humanitarian space, and that can’t come without security,” Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF’s Kyrgyzstan representative, told EurasiaNet.org on June 17. “That’s the issue we’re trying to force, on the political level, on the regional level, and on the UN level as well -- how we can guarantee security so that we can deliver services everywhere.”
A UN official said that 40 metric tons of medical aid will arrive in Bishkek on June 19.
The UN has distributed some supplies through the International Committee of the Red Cross, including 55,382 summer shelters; medicine and medical instruments from UNICEF; medicine, hygiene sets and clothes from the UN Population Fund; and flour and cooking oil from the World Food Programme.
The IDPs in VLKSM say none of this aid has reached them, and ethnic Uzbeks inside Osh who have barricaded themselves into their ‘mahallas’ (neighborhoods), afraid to leave, say the same. “We haven't seen a gram of humanitarian aide,” Avaz, a man from the largely destroyed mahalla of Arygali Niyazov in Osh who declined to give his surname, told EurasiaNet.org.
Like the IDPs outside the city, ethnic Uzbeks remaining in Osh are pooling resources, hoping they last until they feel safe leaving their neighborhoods.
Many of those affected by violence have been left with nothing but the clothes they stand up in. “We didn’t take anything with us. We’ve only got these,” says Nigora Aliyeva, Osman’s mother, pointing to the grubby yellow skirt and black-and-white blouse she is wearing.
“Our house has burned down,” whispers her mother-in-law, 70-year-old Saniya Kulikova, in tears. “There’s nothing left.”
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.