Kyrgyzstan: Uzbek refugees transferred to Romania

Briefing Notes, 29 July 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 July 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The second stage of a humanitarian air transfer of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan ended this morning after 439 Uzbek refugees landed in Timisoara, Romania around 8.40 a.m. Geneva time (7.40 a.m. Romanian time) on a chartered flight. After arriving, the refugees were transferred to a reception centre, run by the National Refugee Office where they will stay temporarily while resettlement procedures to third countries take place. On Wednesday and Thursday the refugees had been airlifted from Jalal-Abad and Osh in Kyrgyzstan near the Uzbekistan border to the capital of Bishkek. Initially, all 426 refugees from Sasik camp were transferred. Then late yesterday evening, 14 Uzbeks in detention in Osh were released by the Kyrgyz authorities and flown to Bishkek on a plane which had been on standby, to join the other refugees for the flight to Timisoara. At the last minute, one Uzbek refugee said he did not want to take the flight to Romania and wanted to return to Uzbekistan. He is still in Kyrgyzstan. Fifteen Uzbeks remain in detention in Osh and we are negotiating with the Kyrgyz authorities for their release and remain deeply concerned about their fate. Eleven of the Uzbeks have already been accepted for resettlement. We have strongly reiterated to the Kyrgyz authorities that the Uzbeks in detention should not be returned to Uzbekistan, as this would be contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention to which they have acceded, and contrary to Kyrgyz national law. The authorities have assured UNHCR that these 15 will not be deported to Uzbekistan but kept in Kyrgyzstan for further processing.

In Timisoara, after a very long, tiring and tense two days, the 439 refugees who arrived after the seven-hour flight on an IOM [International Organization for Migration] chartered Boeing-747, said they were extremely happy. They were accompanied on the flight by UNHCR and IOM staff.

During this complex and charged operation, UNHCR has received enormous support from the authorities in Kyrgyzstan, particularly the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Romanian government, the US government, many other governments, the EU, OSCE, UN sister agencies, IOM and the international community.