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UNHCR shocked by extradition of Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan

News Stories, 9 August 2006

© UNHCR/C.Zaccagnini
Uzbek refugees at a camp in Kyrgyzstan before being transferred to Romania en route to settlement in a third country. Five Uzbeks held back by Kyrgyz authorities were extradited to Uzbekistan on Wednesday.

GENEVA, August 9 (UNHCR) UNHCR said it was shocked by Kyrgyzstan's extradition on Wednesday of four Uzbek refugees and one Uzbek asylum seeker. The refugee agency said it believed the deportees were at grave risk after being sent back to Uzbekistan, which had sought their extradition.

"We fear for their safety. This refoulement [forced return] is an extremely serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention which Kyrgyzstan has ratified under which no refugees should be forcibly returned to their country of origin," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

"What is even more disturbing is that we had secured resettlement places in different countries for the four refugees months ago and had been asking the Kyrgyz authorities to allow us to transfer them."

UNHCR, meanwhile, called on the Uzbek government to grant humanitarian access by international observers to the five deportees to ensure their basic human rights are respected.

The Uzbeks were deported by Kyrgyz authorities, through the Dostuk border crossing, to Uzbekistan on Wednesday morning local time.

The four Uzbek refugees, recognised under UNHCR's mandate, had been held in detention in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Osh since their arrest more than a year ago following an extradition request from Uzbekistan.

They had arrived in Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of the violent events in Andijan in May 2005 and were part of a group of some 500 asylum seekers, all of whom were later recognised as refugees. All the other refugees in that group were transferred to Romania by UNHCR in July and September last year. The vast majority have now been resettled to third countries.

In mid-June, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan upheld a department of migration service decision not to grant refugee status to the last four Uzbek refugees. This decision exhausted the legal process. The fifth Uzbek, who was arrested in October 2005 after a request from Uzbekistan, still had his asylum appeal claim pending.

"Since the beginning of these proceedings over the four refugees we have repeatedly asked the Kyrgyz authorities to maintain their commitment to their international obligations. This grave breach is a huge disappointment as the deportees' lives may be at stake. Kyrgyzstan has failed to protect these refugees," said Guterres. "This is an even greater disappointment given everything Kyrgyzstan has done for Uzbek refugees in the past," he added.

UNHCR left Uzbekistan in mid-April after a government request in March asked the agency to end its work in the country within one month.

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A Place to Call Home: The Situation of Stateless Persons in the Kyrgyz Republic

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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.

The crisis in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

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