The United Nations refugee agency today raised concerns about the safety of more than 500 Uzbeks who fled the recent military crackdown in their country to take shelter in a rough camp in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the group of 540 – including 91 women and children – arrived at Barash camp on the bank of the river that marks the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border after hundreds of people were reportedly killed 10 days ago in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan when Government troops opened fire on a protest march.
"Such close proximity to a border is always a concern for UNHCR, and also there is no water or sanitation at the camp," spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said in Geneva. "We have a three-person emergency team in the area closely monitoring the situation at the camp and the border."
UNHCR gave out emergency relief items last week, and another round of relief supplies is due to be distributed shortly. Over the weekend, two UNHCR trucks from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, arrived in Osh after crossing one of the highest mountain passes in the world, carrying 160 tents, over 1,000 blankets, 500 kitchen sets and emergency health kits.
"We are asking the Kyrgyz authorities for permission to move the asylum-seekers to a site further away from the border," Ms. Pagonis said, adding: "Meanwhile, the Government has given us assurances that asylum seekers would not be forced back to Uzbekistan against their will. All the asylum-seekers who registered at Barash are still at the camp."
The agency again welcomed the Kyrgyz Government's prompt action to help the asylum-seekers, and reiterated its call for the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to be kept open on both sides.