UNHCR reiterates concern over 15 detained Uzbeks

The UN refugee agency continues to work with the Kyrgyz authorities for the release of the Uzbeks still in detention in western Kyrgyzstan. Twelve of them have been recognised as refugees while three are undergoing status determination. Eleven have been accepted for resettlement in Europe.

Sasik camp's 439 Uzbek refugees have left for Romania, but another 15 remain in detention further south in Osh, western Kyrgyzstan.   © UNHCR

GENEVA, August 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has reiterated serious concerns over the fate of 15 Uzbeks who remain in detention in Kyrgyzstan after 439 of their fellow exiles were airlifted to Romania last Friday.

UNHCR is still working with the Kyrgyz authorities for the release of the 15 Uzbeks being detained in the border town of Osh in western Kyrgyzstan. Twelve of them have been recognised as refugees while three are presently undergoing status determination and therefore fall under the protection of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Eleven of the 15 have already been accepted by three European countries for resettlement.

"We hope that the people living in difficult circumstances in detention will be released as soon as possible," said Ekber Menemencioglu, the Geneva-based director of UNHCR's Central Asia, South-west Asia, North Africa and Middle East bureau. "There is a strong possibility that they would face persecution if returned to Uzbekistan. We have to remember that despite all our requests so far, we still have not received any official information about the four asylum seekers who were deported in early June to Uzbekistan."

He stressed that the 1951 Refugee Convention is an internationally recognised legal instrument to which Kyrgyzstan has acceded. "We continue to have faith that the Kyrgyz authorities will stand by their principles and release these people before long," Menemencioglu added.

Meanwhile, the 439 Uzbeks who were airlifted to Romania last week are now staying in a reception centre in the western city of Timisoara. They've received medical attention, hot meals, soap, shampoo, towels and bed-linen for what UNHCR has assured the Romanian government will be a short stay.

Representatives of countries like Australia, Canada and the United States are now working closely with UNHCR staff and Romanian authorities to interview the refugees for permanent resettlement. To speed up the process, a total of 20 UNHCR staff members have been sent to Timisoara to help their colleagues on the ground.