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Concern grows over Uzbek refugees in Central Asia

News Stories, 5 July 2005

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, 5 July (UNHCR) A prominent Uzbek human rights activist, Mr. Lutfullo Shamsuddinov, has been detained by police in the Kazakh capital, Almaty. Mr. Shamsuddinov sought asylum in Kazakhstan after the 13 May events in Andijan, Uzbekistan.

He arrived in Kazakhstan on 25 May 2005 and was registered by UNHCR on 27 May. After a thorough refugee status determination process, he and his six dependent family members were recognized as mandate refugees on 24 June. His case was submitted to a third government for urgent resettlement.

"We have now received word from that government that in principle, it is willing to accept the request," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. "We are very concerned that a refugee who is under our mandate has been arrested and faces a very uncertain future.'

Mr. Shamsuddinov was arrested Monday following a request by the Uzbek authorities to extradite him. UNHCR staff in Almaty are seeking access to Mr Shamsuddinov. The refugee agency has urged the Kazakh authorities not to forcibly return Mr. Shamsuddinov to Uzbekistan. Under the 1951 Geneva Convention, it is forbidden to forcibly return refugees and asylum seekers to their country of origin.

The arrest in Kazakhstan comes as 29 Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan remain in detention following a request for extradition by the Uzbek authorities. Last Friday, UNHCR organised a meeting with governments in Geneva to seek urgent resettlement of the 29, as well as discuss humanitarian evacuation of some 450 other Uzbeks who have sought refuge in Kyrgyzstan. They are currently at the Sasik camp near Jalal-Abad.

"Our bureau for the region indicates there has been a positive response so far from a number of governments, but I cannot at this time give specifics," Redmond said.

The refugee agency is working with the Kyrgyz authorities to conduct an accelerated refugee determination procedure for Uzbek asylum seekers in the country. The fate of the group has been a source of concern to UNHCR since their arrival in Kyrgyzstan on May 15, two days after the violent events that left an unknown number of people dead in Andijan. So far, there has been no independent investigation of what happened on that day. The Kyrgyz authorities have been under pressure from Uzbekistan to return the asylum seekers, in defiance of the 1951 Refugee Convention. On 9 June, four of the asylum seekers were forcibly returned from Kyrgyzstan. Despite repeated requests, UNHCR has received no official word from Uzbek authorities on the fate of the four men. The agency did receive unofficial information last week that one of them was in critical condition in a military hospital.

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