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Lithuania/Poland: UNHCR concerned on Chechen refusals

Briefing Notes, 15 November 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 November 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is concerned about reports of Chechen asylum seekers being barred from entering Lithuania and Poland following the recent Chechen terrorist attack in Moscow. Last week, Lithuanian border guards refused entry to 26 Chechens and returned them to Belarus. At least 17 of them were detained by Belarus authorities and subsequently put on a train bound for Moscow. Their current whereabouts are unknown. In neighbouring Poland, charity groups have reported dozens of cases of Chechens being turned away from the country's eastern border since the October 23 terrorist attack on a Moscow theatre by Chechen separatists.

The UNHCR bureau in Warsaw and our office in Stockholm, which handles the Nordic and the Baltic States, are seeking urgent clarification from Polish and Lithuanian authorities. While we understand legitimate security concerns following the Moscow attack, we are nevertheless concerned that a blanket refusal to allow in Chechen asylum seekers could put many people at risk.

Poland has hosted a large number of asylum seekers from Chechnya. This year alone, 1,638 Russian Federation nationals virtually all of them Chechens had asked for asylum there.

Poland and Lithuania are both signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention and candidates for membership in the European Union. A policy of refusing to allow in Chechen asylum seekers would constitute a violation of the two countries' national laws and international commitments.

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