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Uzbekistan/Kyrgyzstan: UNHCR urges to leave the border open

Briefing notes

Uzbekistan/Kyrgyzstan: UNHCR urges to leave the border open

17 May 2005

Following the violent events in Andijan on Friday, UNHCR is urging both the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments to leave the border open to all civilians at every crossing point. A UNHCR team arrived on the Kyrgyz side of the border on Sunday, and has since visited two crossing points, one at Jalal-Abad, the other at Kara-suu.

A UNHCR emergency team to support our staff already on the ground is also on the way to the region, and aid supplies from our warehouse in the nearby regional centre of Osh have been sent to the border area and are being distributed. Additional supplies, including tents, are being sent by road from our stockpiles in Tajikistan.

In Jalal-Abad, some 50 km north of Andijan, a group of some 550 Uzbeks arrived on Saturday, the majority of them men, with 84 women and 12 children among them. They told UNHCR that they were in Andijan on Friday and fled when the army opened fire on the demonstrators. They (541 of them) are now accommodated in a military camp erected in a narrow valley on the Kyrgyz bank of the Kara-Darya river, near the town of Jalal-Abad in the district of Suzac. UNHCR has negotiated for an NGO called ACTED, to purchase and deliver food to the group. The newcomers have been registered as asylum seekers by the Kyrgyz Department of Migration Service and issued temporary cards by the Kyrgyz authorities valid for a period of 10 days.

The asylum seekers told UNHCR that they had been out in Andijan on Friday afternoon when the army opened fire. They said that panic spread through the city, and many people tried to escape, but that the streets were cordoned off by the military. They said they walked for 10 hours to reach the border, where they were helped by local villagers who led them across to safety in Kyrgyzstan.

UNHCR has rushed emergency relief supplies, including clothes, blankets, jerry cans and soap from its warehouse in the nearby Kyrgyz city of Osh, to the new camp. Six hundred blankets, 100 jerry cans, 1,000 bars of soap and 25 bales of clothes were delivered to the camp's authorities on Monday. UNHCR is also sending 150 tents by truck from its warehouse in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The refugee agency is concerned about the proximity of the camp to the border and would like to relocate the group in order to better ensure their safety, as is common practice in every refugee situation.

Yesterday (Monday), the UNHCR team visited the border town of Kara-suu, 50 km east of Andijan. No asylum seekers were reported there. Our team saw Uzbeks crossing the border into Kara-suu, but they seemed to be coming over for the day only, to visit families or to shop at the market.

Due to distances in the area, UNHCR has not been able to monitor other entry points along the border. Furthermore, the number of registered asylum seekers quoted above does not include the Uzbeks who have taken refuge with friends and families in Kyrgyzstan and are not registering with local authorities.

UNHCR welcomes the Kyrgyz government's assurances that people will not be forcibly returned to Uzbekistan and its moves to register the newcomers as asylum-seekers. This is in keeping with Kyrgyzstan's traditional support for international protection and UNHCR's work. The country was one of the first in the region to become a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The additional three-person UNHCR emergency team being sent to Kyrgyzstan will help staff on the ground in supporting Kyrgyz authorities in coping with any potential influx from Uzbekistan.