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.