Last spring, intense ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan left hundreds dead and 400,000 displaced from their homes. More than half a year later, the aftermath of the violence is still deeply felt by survivors, many who lost homes, livelihoods, and loved ones. In addition to injuries and loss, incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) also increased.
When the fighting started in June, International Medical Corps deployed an emergency response team to the region, providing food and clothing, as well as psychosocial support to those affected. In its initial response, International Medical Corps identified GBV as a primary concern, as so many were living in temporary shelters and lacked basic security.
Different forms of GBV, from rape and physical abuse to forced marriages and sexual harassment, were present in Kyrgyzstan before the fighting started. GBV was exacerbated during the unrest, with rapes and beatings reported in villages and cities throughout southern Kyrgyzstan.
With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), International Medical Corps is providing confidential psychosocial support and case management to survivors of sexual violence and other forms of GBV. The program, which also works to raise awareness about GBV and strengthen local support systems and referral mechanisms for survivors, has been implemented in Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Osh, where an estimated 15 percent of the buildings were destroyed in last spring’s fighting.
International Medical Corps has trained first responders and volunteers in psychological first aid and when a survivor is identified, the team provides emotional support and helps connect her to services available in the area. Through this approach, International Medical Corps not only prevents and responds to cases of GBV, but also addresses larger community needs and helps residents get the resources they need.
For one 50-year-old woman living on the outskirts of Osh, these connections made by International Medical Corps helped give her a fresh start. She and her 23-year-old son were badly beaten in the violence last June. Their house was burned and many of their belongings inside were destroyed. She was one of more than 22,000 people to lose their official documents to claim pension because of the violence and, as a result, their families struggled to obtain basic necessities.
“We are very thankful to you for visiting us,” she said, after meeting International Medical Corps for the first time. “No local authorities or international organizations have visited us up to now. Now I believe people will care for us.”
After their first meeting with the mother and son, International Medical Corps was able to bring the two’s needs to the attention of the humanitarian coordination mechanism, the United Nations cluster system. Today, their house is being rebuilt and the documents that were destroyed in the fire are also being restored.
International Medical Corps continues to follow up with the woman and her son, as well as dozens of other families living throughout Osh and Jalalabad, to make sure they have access to the support and resources they need to heal and start anew.