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.