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UNHCR shocked by Kyrgyzstan's extradition of Uzbek refugees

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UNHCR shocked by Kyrgyzstan's extradition of Uzbek refugees

9 August 2006

Geneva, 9 August 2006

UNHCR said it was shocked by Kyrgyzstan's extradition on Wednesday of four Uzbek refugees and one Uzbek asylum seeker. The five have been sent back to Uzbekistan and we believe the move places the deportees at grave risk.

"We fear for their safety. This refoulement 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."

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, were in detention in Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan after being arrested more than a year ago following an extradition request from the Uzbek government.

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 has not been present in Uzbekistan since mid-April after a government request in March for the agency to end its work in the country within one month. UNHCR calls on the Uzbek government to grant humanitarian access by international observers to the five deportees to ensure their basic human rights are respected.