A simple plea is scrawled in meter-high letters across the charred remains of homes torched in violence against ethnic Uzbeks: SOS.
However, Uzbeks who have returned to ruined neighborhoods after a promise of help from the Kyrgyz government say officials tricked them and are ignoring their calls for help — and worse.
Men in uniform have been detaining and beating Uzbek men, some fatally, eight of the returnees said on Wednesday.
“Just last night they took four more of our men and we haven’t seen them since,” said Shavkatilla Mamatov, 45, outside the burnt-out husk of his brick hut on Alisher Navoi Street, where every residence had been torched.
Aigul Ryskulova, the Kyrgyz presidential coordinator for refugees, said that arrests were being made in Uzbek neighborhoods as police investigated the causes of this month’s violence, but she had no information about beatings or deaths.
Starting on the night of June 10, rampages by majority Kyrgyz mobs killed hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks in the south of Kyrgyzstan, reducing entire Uzbek neighborhoods to ruins and displacing as many as 400,000 of them, a quarter of whom fled across the border to Uzbekistan.
On Wednesday, visiting officials from the US and the UN said that the humanitarian crisis has entered a new phase, as 75,000 Uzbeks have come back from refugee camps in Uzbekistan, according to Kyrgyz data collected at the border.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres called on the international community to help Kyrgyzstan “make peace and harmony between its communities,” adding that this would be the most difficult part of the relief effort.
UN officials say the immediate threat of food and water shortages has largely abated and emphasis has shifted to providing shelter to thousands of families before the arrival of winter. Six trucks of tents and other aid from Uzbek refugee camps, which have now all been dismantled, crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday.
In the Kara-Suu district of Osh, tents provided by the UNHCR have been pitched up within the gutted remains of Uzbek houses, allowing families to live on the sites of their former homes and begin the reconstruction effort.
The Uzbeks interviewed on Wednesday said they had not been forced out of refugee camps in Uzbekistan, as Amnesty International said in a report on June 24.
But they said Kyrgyz officials who toured the Uzbek camps had promised them the same security and comfort if they returned, including three meals a day, healthcare and temporary shelter. None of this has been delivered, they said.
US Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz raised the issue with senior Kyrgyz officials during Wednesday’s visit, urging them to provide “fair and equal distribution of assistance.”
Kyrgyz officials countered with their own warning to international aid agencies to distribute aid to Kyrgyz as well, some of whose homes were also burned during the clashes that left much of Osh in ruins.
“The wounds are still very fresh and far from healing, so if you give help only to one side, then the other side could see it as unjust,” Ryskulova said.
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