Kyrgyzstan assures UNHCR asylum seekers do not face deportation to Uzbekistan
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, June 3 (UNHCR) - The government of Kyrgyzstan has reiterated its commitment to honour its international agreement that bans the forcible return of asylum seekers who fled violence in neighbouring Uzbekistan.
UNHCR announced on Thursday that the Kyrgyz government had assured the agency that it would meet its obligations regarding refugees after rumours spread in the region that some of those who had crossed the border to escape turmoil in the Ferghana valley might be handed over to authorities in Uzbekistan.
The refugee agency also thanked the government of Kyrgyzstan for its commitment to finding a new location for the temporary camp housing the asylum seekers, which is at present too close to the border. All residents of Barash camp - 482 individuals including 13 who are in hospital - have been registered by UNHCR.
Hundreds of people fled across the border near the Kyrgyz city of Jalalabad after bloody confrontations in the Uzbek city of Andijan, 50 km from the border, between security forces and public protesters on May 13. Some also fled at other points along the border after less serious disturbances in other towns.
Kyrgyzstan, after initially issuing "asylum certificates" that allowed for a 10-day stay, has since given the asylum seekers permission to remain for a month. The government has assured UNHCR it will continue to observe the ban on refoulement - the forcible return of asylum seekers to the country they are fleeing - that is an essential part of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. Kyrgyzstan was one of the first signatories among the new countries in Central Asia.
UNHCR said last month that it had been concerned by media reports that said Kyrgyz border guards deported 86 Uzbeks between May 16 and 20 in a different section of the border from where Barash camp is located. Separately, eight people did voluntarily return to Uzbekistan after being briefed by UNHCR staff on their rights and the current conditions in Uzbekistan.
The UN refugee agency has asked both countries to ensure the border remains open for potential asylum seekers.
By Jack Redden