UNHCR regrets order to leave Uzbekistan

News Stories, 20 March 2006

© UNHCR/C.Zaccagnini
Uzbek asylum seekers fleeing a crackdown in Andijan, Uzbekistan in May 2005, intially sheltered at Barash camp on the banks of a river marking the border with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

GENEVA, March 20 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency today expressed regret over a decision by the government of Uzbekistan to give UNHCR one month to end its more than decade-long presence in the Central Asian country.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller said the agency was informed of the decision in a 17 March Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs communiqué declaring that, "UNHCR has fully implemented its tasks and there are no evident reasons for its further presence in Uzbekistan. With this regard, the ministry requests UNHCR to close its office in Tashkent within one month."

UNHCR says it will abide by the government's order and will seek to make alternative arrangements to meet ongoing needs of the some 2,000 mainly Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Uzbekistan.

"We are fully satisfied that our work in Uzbekistan has been performed in accordance with the mandate given to us by the UN General Assembly to protect and find solutions for refugees," said Feller. "The basic principles of refugee protection will continue to guide all of our activities on behalf of refugees wherever we operate, even when this might have negative consequences on our relations with a state."

Following the Andijan incident in Uzbekistan in May 2005, UNHCR carried out a humanitarian evacuation to Romania of 439 Uzbek refugees who had fled to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Over 200 of the refugees transferred to Romania have since been resettled to third countries while 228 are still awaiting departure. A further 11 Uzbeks were resettled directly from Kyrgyzstan in September 2005.

UNHCR is still concerned about the fate of four detained Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, two of whom were denied asylum following a Supreme Court decision in mid-February and has called on the Kyrgyz government to refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these refugees to Uzbekistan.

The fate of an increasing number of Uzbek asylum seekers who have been detained in Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan is also of continuing concern to UNHCR.

The UN refugee agency opened its office in Uzbekistan in 1993 to support its operations during the 1992-93 civil war in Tajikistan and in northern Afghanistan. Its work in Uzbekistan currently focuses on the voluntary repatriation and resettlement of some 2,000 refugees mainly from Afghanistan.

A small number of asylum seekers from other countries also approach UNHCR's office in Tashkent where the agency conducts refugee status determination.

Uzbekistan is the only country in the CIS which is not a party to the 1951 refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol. It has no national legislation or any administrative asylum procedure.