Uzbek refugees set to fly from Kyrgyzstan to Romania

News Stories, 28 July 2005

© UNHCR

GENEVA, July 28 (UNHCR) Hundreds of Uzbek refugees are set to fly from Kyrgyzstan to Timisoara in western Romania on Friday in the second phase of a humanitarian transfer that will eventually take them to other countries for permanent resettlement.

Thanking Romania for agreeing to receive the Uzbek refugees, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said on Thursday, "It is an extremely generous move on the part of the Romanian government, and a brave decision too. This profound humanitarian gesture is of particular significance at a time when Romania is recovering from extensive flooding. My agency will take full responsibility for the well-being of the refugees and will ensure their stay is short."

The Uzbeks first arrived in Kyrgyzstan after fleeing Uzbekistan in the wake of the violent events in Andijan in mid-May. The decision to launch a humanitarian transfer was taken after several weeks of intense pressure during which some refugees and asylum seekers were detained and four were deported to Uzbekistan.

In the first leg of the transfer on Wednesday, UNHCR airlifted all 426 refugees on 10 Yak-40 flights from Sasik camp in western Kyrgyzstan to Bishkek. One plane is currently on standby at the airport in the Kyrgyz border town of Osh, ready to transfer the 29 Uzbeks have been detained there for the past two months.

For the next phase of the humanitarian transfer on Friday morning, a Boeing 747 funded by the UN refugee agency and chartered by the International Organization for Migration is set to fly the refugees from Bishkek to Timisoara. A UNHCR team is already in Romania to assist the authorities and conduct further resettlement interviews. UNHCR is working closely with several countries that have expressed an interest in resettling the Uzbek refugees permanently.

UNHCR legal experts have concluded that 452 of the total group of 455 Uzbeks are considered refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, while three who are pending status determination are of concern to UNHCR. All are in need of international protection. Any attempt to send them back to territories where their life or freedom would be threatened would be a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan has acceded, and of Kyrgyz national law.

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Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

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The crisis in Kyrgyzstan

UNHCR was monitoring the returns of refugees and other displaced people to southern Kyrgyzstan as tens of thousands of people headed back to their communities. Violent clashes in Osh and other cities in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier this month had sent an estimated 300,000 fleeing to the countryside, while 100,000 had fled across the border into Uzbekistan.

Days after the attacks, Kyrgyz authorities were still trying to restore law and order in the south, where they reported that some 180 people were killed and 1,900 injured. Many of the internally displaced have been staying with host families with many also sleeping rough. In Uzbekistan, authorities reported more than 50 sites hosting refugees in the border provinces of Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan. Some refugees were staying in schools and other public buildings.

UNHCR has provided more than 300 tonnes of emergency assistance in a series of relief flights over the past week, working with the concerned governments and local partners in sometimes hazardous conditions.

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