UNHCR extremely concerned over fate of 11 Uzbek asylum seekers deported from Ukraine

Briefing Notes, 24 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 24 February 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR remains concerned over the fate of eleven Uzbek asylum seekers who were forcibly deported from the Ukraine on 14 February. The eleven had registered their asylum claims or were in the process of doing so, when they were arrested in the Ukraine and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan. We are extremely concerned over their fate and appeal for humane treatment in full accordance with international standards.

Since last Friday, UNHCR has appealed to the Uzbek authorities to be given access to the returned Uzbeks, but this has so far not been given. UNHCR, in exercising its international protection mandate, promotes the voluntary return of refugees to the country of origin if the circumstances permit repatriation in safety and dignity. Pursuant to its Statute and subsequent General Assembly resolutions, in conjunction with the 1951 Convention, UNHCR's role in this regard also includes the monitoring of the situation of returnees in the country of origin. Being the subject of an extradition request does not remove an asylum seeker or refugee from international refugee protection. It is also a breach of the UN Convention against Torture to send persons back to countries where they may face torture.

The asylum seekers had been arrested in Ukraine following 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.

UNHCR also remains concerned about the fate of four detained Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, but we have assurances from Kyrgyz authorities that no depurations will take for the time being. Two of the four were denied asylum following a Supreme Court decision last week. The other two will appear in court on 3 March to appeal against the first instance rejection decision. The four were arrested following an extradition request from the Uzbek government. UNHCR has called on the Kyrgyz government to refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these four refugees to Uzbekistan.

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