Reinforcing repeated warnings against the forcible return of asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan, where they could face imminent risk of torture, a senior United Nations refugee official is set to fly to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan tomorrow to seek a solution for some 450 Uzbeks there whose fate remains very uncertain.
During his three-day visit Assistant UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Kamel Morjane will meet with Kyrgyz officials “to find an acceptable solution for this worrisome situation,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in its Geneva of the Uzbeks who fled violent political protests in their homeland last month.
He said UNHCR was especially concerned for 29 people detained away from the rest of the group who are under imminent threat of being sent back to Uzbekistan. “This week, we have had to redouble our efforts to prevent their forcible return,” he added.
Mr. Morjane’s visit follows an appeal from Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this week to the Government of Kyrgyzstan not to forcibly return asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan where UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says they “may face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture and extra-judicial and summary executions.”
Uzbek authorities say the 29 are “criminals,” and Mr. Redmond said UNHCR had received information that the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General had asked for a further 103 people to be detained.
“The Kyrgyz authorities have come under intense pressure from Tashkent (the Uzbek capital) to forcibly return the asylum seekers who fled Uzbekistan in the wake of the violence in Andijan on 13 May,” he noted.
“Two weeks ago, on 9 June, Kyrgyzstan deported four asylum seekers back to their homeland. Despite all our efforts, we have no information regarding their fate since their return in Uzbekistan,” he added.
On Wednesday, Ms. Arbour and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called on Kyrgyzstan not to send anyone back to Uzbekistan without following a proper status determination procedure.
“There must be a proper procedure, not a hasty effort to rubber stamp a politically expedient ending to the current tensions with Uzbekistan,” Mr. Guterres said.
Senior UN human rights officials have already voiced concern over allegations of torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention in Uzbekistan in connection with the Andijan protests.