UNHCR says Kyrgyz security forces may have violated international law, and urges halt to deportations to Uzbekistan
GENEVA - The UN refugee agency issued an urgent appeal to the Kyrgyz government on Friday to cease further deportations of Uzbek asylum seekers until a proper procedure has been carried out to see whether or not they are refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
UNHCR said it was shocked to discover that four men who fled Uzbekistan in the wake of the explosion of violence in Andijan on 13 May had been returned against their will on Thursday. The agency said this was a direct violation of an agreement it had reached with the Kyrgyz government that no one would be forcibly returned unless they had been determined not to be a refugee after going through an asylum procedure. There had also been an agreement that UNHCR, which has an emergency team on the spot, would continue to have full access to these individuals during their detention.
The four, who are presumably now in the custody of the Uzbek authorities, are Dilshod Hadjiev, Tavakal Hadjiev, Abdubais (Hasan) Shakirov and Muhammad Kadyrov.
If the four men were indeed refugees, - instead of "criminals" as repeatedly alleged by the Uzbek authorities - then their deportation would be considered refoulement (forcible return of a refugee to his or her homeland), which is prohibited under the 1951 Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory. It is also specifically prohibited under Kyrgyz national law.
The refugee agency said evidence that they were common criminals rather than refugees fleeing persecution for their political or religious beliefs - or other grounds defined by the 1951 Convention - would need to be examined extremely carefully before they could be excluded from refugee status and returned to their home country.
The UN refugee agency welcomed a strong statement on Friday morning by the Kyrgyz Acting First Vice Prime Minister Felix Kulov condemning Thursday's deportations. Mr. Kulov also said there would be an investigation and that any state security officials who had acted improperly or illegally would be brought to justice.
The four were part of a group of 16 asylum seekers who were removed by security forces from Sasyk camp to the town of Jalalabad, around 25 kilometres from the border with Uzbekistan, on Thursday, and placed in detention. UNHCR staff attempted to get access to all 16 detainees throughout Thursday afternoon and evening, but were refused permission by the Kyrgyz National Security Force. After 24 hours, UNHCR officials were finally given access to the remaining 12 in the Jalalabad detention centre around noon on Friday. They appeared shocked by what had happened to the other four men, but were otherwise in good health.
UNHCR had applauded last weekend's relocation of some 470 Uzbek asylum seekers to Sasyk camp, believing they would now be in a more secure situation after spending the previous month in a precarious position in a temporary camp right on the border between the two countries.