This is a guest note by Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration at the Department of State. Schwartz previously headed the Connect US Fund. He sends regular reports of his overseas work on humanitarian matters, and TWN is pleased to share them here.
Report from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan
Between June 28 and July 1, I traveled to the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to assess humanitarian response efforts in the wake of the horrific violence perpetrated in the south of Kyrgyzstan, primarily against the Uzbek community. Members of this community make up about fifteen percent of the population of Kyrgyzstan, and a much larger percentage of the population of the south.
As you know, the violence was characterized by coordinated attacks and destruction of thousands of homes in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalalabad; officials have also documented the deaths of several hundred people, although the actual number of deaths may have been much higher. And as many as 100,000 Kyrgyz citizens fled to neighboring Uzbekistan.
While those responsible for these attacks have yet to be identified, it seems clear that the violence was not a spontaneous manifestation of inter-ethnic conflict. Rather, the violence appears to have been orchestrated by individuals or groups bent on destabilizing the situation to achieve political or economic advantage.
I began my visit in Uzbekistan, where I met with government officials, representatives from international humanitarian organizations and members of civil society. The government of Uzbekistan acted quickly and constructively in response to the humanitarian crisis, providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance to some 100,000 refugees. Government officials also cooperated closely with UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations. These efforts helped many people in a time of dire need.
Although most refugees have now gone back to Kyrgyzstan, concerns have been raised about the circumstances of returns, and the situation in Kyrgyzstan remains fragile. Thus, I encouraged Uzbek officials to sustain their relationships and cooperation with international humanitarian organizations such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I also told my interlocutors that the United States believes it is important that the border stay open, and that any refugees who may still be in Uzbekistan and fear return have the option to remain temporarily. Anyone can appreciate the deep concerns of those who fear returning to the scene of such horrific violence, and it is thus important that returns be voluntary.
In Kyrgyzstan, I traveled to areas impacted by the violence, and conferred with government officials and representatives of non-governmental and international organizations. On June 30, I visited Osh, joined by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ant