Kyrgyzstan Violence: Newly Homeless Already Fear Winter

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Following June violence, some residents have returned to their burned-out homes and are living in their yards or porch areas. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

At first it looks like a picnic—a group of men are sitting on a blanket on the sidewalk of a leafy neighborhood. 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 neighborhoods. 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 neighboring 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. Neighbors 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.

Catholic Relief Services 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. “Insulation will be key.”

With experience in places as diverse as the Balkans, Pakistan, and Indonesia, CRS shelter experts are planning the best way to provide housing for thousands of people in the coming months.

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

Laura Sheahen is CRS’ regional information officer for Asia.

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