UNHCR appalled by deportation of Uzbek asylum seekers from Ukraine

Press Releases, 16 February 2006

Geneva, Thursday 16 February 2006

The UN refugee agency said it was appalled to discover that 11 asylum seekers from Uzbekistan had been forcibly deported back to their home country by the Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday night. Nine of the asylum seekers had earlier registered their asylum claims with the Ukrainian authorities and the other two had expressed their intention to also claim asylum.

"We deplore this action, which the authorities carried out in contravention of their international obligations", said Pirkko Kourula, Director of UNHCR's Bureau for Europe.

UNHCR is seeking urgent clarification from the Ukrainian authorities and seeking additional information about the fate of the deportees.

On Wednesday afternoon, UNHCR learned from media reports that the detained Uzbeks had been deported during the night of 14-15 February. The 11 men are now presumably in the custody of the Uzbek authorities.

Details of the situation are still emerging. On 7 February, UNHCR learned that 11 Uzbek asylum seekers had been arrested in two different locations in Crimea by unidentified Ukrainian law-enforcement authorities.

The Ukrainian authorities confirmed the asylum seekers had been taken to a detention facility in Simferopol after the authorities received requests for their extradition from the Prosecutor's Office of Uzbekistan, alleging involvement in the civilian protests in Andijan on 13 May 2005, which ended violently.

As early as Tuesday, 7 February, and again on 14 February, UNHCR wrote to the Ukrainian authorities requesting official guarantees that no asylum seeker would be forcibly returned unless they had been determined not to be a refugee, after going through full and fair asylum procedures, including the right to appeal. UNHCR also requested access to the detained Uzbeks.

Being the subject of an extradition request does not remove an asylum seeker or refugee from international refugee protection. UNHCR reiterates the importance of the principle of non-refoulement, under which no refugee or asylum seeker whose case has not yet been properly assessed, can be forcibly returned to their country of origin. Refoulement is a violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Ukraine is a signatory, and is also contrary to international customary law.

It is also a breach of the UN Convention against Torture to send persons back to countries where they may face torture.

Refoulement is also specifically prohibited under Ukrainian national law.

UNHCR is seeking assurances from Ukraine that in the future, asylum seekers from any country will be treated in full respect of Ukraine's international and national legal obligations concerning refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR is also concerned about the fate of four Uzbek refugees who remain in detention in Kyrgyzstan months after they were arrested following an extradition request from the Uzbek government. The refugee agency is calling on the Kyrgyz government to refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these four refugees to Uzbekistan.

The UN refugee agency is also following closely the cases of 13 Uzbek asylum seekers in the Russian Federation and has requested direct access.

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