Thousands displaced following Kyrgyzstan border clashes

Market in Bishek, Kyrgyzstan Market in Bishek, Kyrgyzstan © Photo by Irene Strong on Unsplash

In Focus by Martina Apicella; Editor: Aleksandra Krol

The violent clashes between the armed forces of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan started on 28 April 2021,  causing the destruction of civilian objects, such as houses, schools and clinics. The village of Kok-Terek in the Batken district has been burned to the ground. Around 30,000 people have been forced to leave their villages in the districts of Batken and Leilek: an area comprising a dozen villages sharing a border with Tajikistan. As a result, MSF sent a mobile medical team to Kyrgyzstan in order to help the fragile local health infrastructure and to provide the affected population with basic health care, including individual counselling sessions for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Given the frequency of tensions at the border, a large part of the population in the area has also been suffering from chronic distress and depression.

The south-west of  Kyrgyzstan is a politically sensitive area due to the ongoing border disputes. Although clashes between civilians residing on  both sides of the border are a common occurrence, usually concerning access to land and water, interventions by armed forces are rare. On 28 April 2021, violence started after Tajiks attempted to gain control of the access to a water distribution point in Vorukh, a Tajik exclave, by  security cameras.  Although a ceasefire was declared on 29 April 2021, the fighting did not stop.  According to the data provided by both countries, at least 41 people were killed, 150 are wounded and thousands have been displaced.

Human Rights Watch has called the governments of both countries to investigate any possible violations of international humanitarian law in order to provide remedies to civilians. Meanwhile, MFS is helping the population on the Kyrgyz side and it is closely working with Tajiki authorities in order to act if needed.

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