Kazakhstan: UNHCR concerned about arrest and mistreatment of Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers

Briefing Notes, 15 September 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 September 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are very concerned about the temporary detention and alleged mistreatment of three Uzbek refugees and two Uzbek asylum seekers that took place last week in Almaty. The five men reported to UNHCR that a group of at least six armed men, all wearing masks, entered their homes in several locations in the Kazakh capital at around midnight last Monday and took them away for questioning under harsh circumstances.

In one of the raids, one refugee was allegedly beaten and suffered a broken nose. Those arrested were then taken to the Almaty Department of the Committee of National Security (DKNB) where they claimed they were verbally abused and threatened with immediate deportation to Uzbekistan. The men were released a few hours later in the morning by the DKNB who unofficially stated that the refugees were arrested during a special operation on suspicion of involvement in crime in Uzbekistan following a search warrant from Uzbekistan.

Refugees reported that at the time of detention some of them were handcuffed, and that plastic bags or woven hats were placed over their faces. They said they were taken to an unknown destination where they were held for interrogation by persons who did not identify themselves. All refugees reported being interrogated in the context of the killing of a policeman in Uzbekistan. They said they received threats of physical violence and deportation from the interrogators. Although they were registered with UNHCR, they were not allowed to contact the refugee agency or their relatives and were not provided with legal representation.

We are seriously concerned about the reported incident, in particular the violence and threats surrounding the raid and subsequent interrogation. We note that nationals from neighbouring seeking asylum in Kazakhstan are particularly vulnerable as they do not have access to the national asylum system; rather their international protection needs are determined by UNHCR in Kazakhstan. We hope that access to the territory and the domestic asylum system will be provided pursuant to the national refugee legislation now under consideration.

We have sent a formal protest note to the Government of Kazakhstan with respect to this incident. We urge the Government of Kazakhstan, as a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol to respect its commitment to protecting refugees.