Ukraine: UNHCR deplores action of authorities, seeks information on deported Uzbeks

Briefing Notes, 17 February 2006

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 17 February 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is urgently seeking information on 11 Uzbek asylum seekers who were forcibly deported to their homeland this week by Ukrainian authorities. We assume they are now in the hands of Uzbek authorities and our office in Tashkent is seeking access to them. We are extremely concerned over their fate and insist that they be treated humanely and in full accordance with international standards.

UNHCR deplores the actions of Ukrainian authorities in forcing the 11 asylum seekers back to their home country on Tuesday night, in contravention of Ukraine's international obligations. 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 are also seeking urgent clarification from the Ukrainian 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.

In a related development, UNHCR is also concerned about the fate of four detained Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, two of whom were denied asylum following a Supreme Court decision yesterday. The four were arrested following an extradition request from the Uzbek government. UNHCR calls on the Kyrgyz government to refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these four refugees to Uzbekistan.




UNHCR country pages

Displacement, Disability and Uncertainty in Ukraine

To date, around 275,500 people have been displaced by fighting in Ukraine. They include some who live with disability, including Viktoria, aged 41, and her husband, Aleksandr, 40, who both have cerebral palsy. Life is difficult enough under normal circumstances for the couple, who also have two sons; 20-year-old Dima, and Ivan aged 19 months. Now it has become a real struggle.

At the end of July, shelling in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk forced Viktoria and Aleksandr to flee to the neighbouring Kharkiv region. It wasn't long before Viktoria's medication ran out. In a desperate bid to help, Aleksandr called the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, which found them transportation and accommodation in Kharkiv.

From there, they were taken to the Promotei Summer Camp, located near the town of Kupiansk. The forest, fresh air and a lake near the camp offered a perfect setting to spend the summer. But, like 120 other internally displaced people (IDP) living there, all Viktoria and Aleksandr could think about was home. They had hoped to return by the Autumn. But it soon came and went.

Today, it is still not safe to go back to Donetsk. Moreover, the camp has not been prepared for the coming winter and the administration has asked people to leave by October 15. Neither Viktoria nor Aleksandr know where they and their young son can go next. The following photographs of the couple and their youngest child were taken by Emine Ziyatdinova.

Displacement, Disability and Uncertainty in Ukraine

Ukraine: Sorting through the Wreckage

Conflict has changed the city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. "We used to have such a beautiful, calm, tidy city," says Angelina, a social worker. Today, it is full of destroyed homes and infrastructure, a casualty of the fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces. More than half of the inhabitants - some 70,000 people - fled the city during the combat earlier this year. In recent weeks, with the city back under government control, some 15,000 have returned. But they face many challenges. Maria, aged 80, returned to a damaged home and sleeps in the kitchen with her family. She worries about getting her pension. The UN refugee agency has transported several tons of hygiene items and kitchen equipment to the city for distribution to those who lost their homes. Photojournalist Iva Zimova recently accompanied UNHCR staff as they visited more than 100 families to give put aid.

Ukraine: Sorting through the Wreckage

Ukraine: Helping Hands Play video

Ukraine: Helping Hands

Ukrainian individuals and organizations, like Everybody Can Help, have been helping people displaced by the conflict in eastern Ukraine with clothing, food and other aid items. The volunteers at Everybody Can Help have helped more than 25,000 people.
Ukraine: Destruction in DonetskPlay video

Ukraine: Destruction in Donetsk

Alexander Kovalenko is one of the last people still living on his street in Donetsk, where the conflict in eastern Ukraine has left a trail of destruction. His home was struck by six shells and the roof was blown off. Now Alexander lives amid the rubble, in a little room he has fixed up, waiting for peace to return.
Ukraine: Returning and RebuildingPlay video

Ukraine: Returning and Rebuilding

The small town of Nikishino stood on the frontline of the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Two weeks into the ceasefire, 200 people have returned there determined to rebuild.