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Uzbeks In Limbo As Misery Grows In Kyrgyzstan

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Uzbeks In Limbo As Misery Grows In Kyrgyzstan

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Uzbeks In Limbo As Misery Grows In Kyrgyzstan

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Kyrgyzstan. The ethnic violence there last week sent tens of thousands of minority Uzbeks fleeing to neighboring Uzbekistan. But then the border was closed, leaving thousands waiting to cross in villages like the one NPR's David Greene visited today.

DAVID GREENE: As soon as we got out of our car in the village of Suradash, we heard the desperation.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: A crowd of Uzbek women surrounded us. Their stories of pain must not be reaching the outside world, many of them said, or else why would it take so long to get food and aid here?

This is Uzbekistan right there?

Ms. NERGIZA ANVAROVA: Yeah, after this wall, there is Uzbekistan.

GREENE: And is everyone trying to go there now?

Ms. ANVAROVA: Yeah.

GREENE: That's one voice in the crowd, Nergiza Anvarova. She's 16 years old, and last Thursday night, she said, her house in the city of Osh was set on fire. She saw 16 neighbors dead in the street.

Ms. ANVAROVA: I think war. It is can be called war.

GREENE: Nergiza, her family and friends all raced for the Uzbek border, and this is where they've landed, 20 minutes away from Osh. They immediately delivered their neighbors' bodies to the village mosque. Then they looked for people to take them in.

Nergiza's story is familiar along this border. She came with her mom and two brothers, and they're crowded in a bedroom with a dozen other people. Nergiza's father stayed behind to defend their Uzbek neighborhood.

Ms. ANVAROVA: My father are there, and they scared about us, and they didn't want for that we come back.

GREENE: And Nergiza isn't convinced she'll ever go back. After all, much of her neighborhood is destroyed. She is worried she'll never be able to return to her beloved language institute, where she has been perfecting her English for six years, in a classroom full of Uzbek and Kyrgyz students.

But where does Nergiza go? Not Uzbekistan, like so many others. She says she has no connection to that country. And actually, a number of refugees said the same thing.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: We were born in Kyrgyzstan, one of these women shouted, and we'll die here. So it is not safe to assume the refugees pressed against the Uzbek border are trying to get in.

The truth is many don't know where they'll end up. They came this way in the rush, and it's turned out to be safe, especially with Uzbek border guards so close.

But this village of normally a few thousand has also been overwhelmed. There is not enough fresh water. The refugees say they haven't bathed or washed clothes since arriving.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: There is also no hospital here for the injured. Medical students have been treating people inside the mosque, until things get too serious. That's when the Uzbek border guards come in.

Just footsteps from the mosque, across a barbed-wire fence, the guards stand in front of a wall, staring into this Kyrgyzstan village like it's a sad movie. Sometimes they get involved.

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: This elderly man who was stabbed in the navel and shot during the violence. Today he desperately needed to have blood and fluid drained, a procedure the medical students couldn't perform.

So the border guards quietly allowed an ambulance from the Uzbek side to drive up to the border. They helped the medical team through the barbed-wire and into Kyrgyzstan.

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: A nurse inserted a tube into the man's stomach and drained the fluid into an empty water bottle. Meanwhile, the border guards allowed two more injured refugees to be quietly carried across, to the ambulance and on to an Uzbek hospital.

Perhaps times won't be quite as desperate soon. As we left, an International Red Cross team pulled in, welcome news to Saudat Amanova, a 38-year-old kindergarten teacher, and now a refugee.

Ms. SAUDAT AMANOVA: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: If the international community doesn't come help, she said, it will be a disgrace to the whole world.

Ms. AMANOVA: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: Which, she added, seems to be busy only with soccer.

David Greene, NPR News, Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

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