Update on Uzbek refugees
A year after hundreds of Uzbeks were forced to flee Uzbekistan following a military crackdown in the city Andijan, many have now been resettled in various countries. Of an initial group of 439 transferred last July by UNHCR to a temporary refugee centre in Timisoara, Romania, only 80 remain and are scheduled to depart over the next few months to final resettlement countries. To date, 360 Uzbeks have been taken in by several countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.
Thanks to this international effort, we expect the centre to be closed later this summer, marking an end to a very difficult year for most of the Uzbek refugees.
The 439 Uzbek refugees - a baby was born in Romania, bringing the total to 440 - were among several hundred who fled their country following the Uzbek military crackdown on a demonstration on Andijan's Bobor Square on 13 May 2005. In the immediate aftermath, the group found refuge in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. UNHCR reiterates its appreciation for the Kyrgyz government's commitment to asylum principles. Kyrgyzstan is one of the first regional signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Those who fled to Kyrgyzstan last spring were recognised as refugees by UNHCR. To alleviate the burden on Kyrgyzstan, UNHCR received permission from the Romanian government to evacuate the group of 439 to Timisoara last July 29. We also want to thank the Romanian government for agreeing to temporarily receive the Uzbek refugees until permanent resettlement countries could be identified.
Today, UNHCR is still concerned about the fate of four Uzbeks who remain in detention in Kyrgyzstan, nearly a year after they were arrested following an extradition request from the Uzbek government. UNHCR has repeatedly called on the Kyrgyz government to refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these four refugees to Uzbekistan. Refoulement, or forcible return, is prohibited under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture, both of which Kyrgyzstan has acceded to.
Two of the four Uzbek refugees in detention were recently denied refugee status by the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan. The appeals of the other two are expected to be decided by the court in the next fortnight in Bishkek. UNHCR has assured the Kyrgyz authorities of its continuing assistance and has offered a solution for the four refugees in other countries.
On April 17, we closed our office in Uzbekistan after being asked to leave by the government, which said UNHCR had "fully implemented its tasks and there are no evident reasons for its further presence in Uzbekistan." The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Tashkent was allowed under an alternative arrangement to continue providing basic care and assistance to remaining refugees in the country and to arrange voluntary repatriation and resettlement.