Amid mounting international concern over the forced deportation of Uzbek asylum-seekers who fled the recent military crackdown in their country to find safety in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, the assistant United Nations refugee chief today pledged to help the Kyrgyz Government protect the displaced during the search for durable solutions.
Kamel Morjane, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ended his three-day visit to Kyrgyzstan pledging to support the Government's protection efforts, but warning that further violations of international law such as the 9 June forced repatriation of four of the refugees would not be tolerated.
And while he said he appreciated and sympathized with the Kyrgyz Government, which received the Uzbeks during a "sensitive transitional period" following a change of regime and shortly before the general elections, he also warned that international understanding did not extend to actions taken in defiance of international law, and reiterated UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres' pronouncement that there was a "red line" beyond which the authorities should not venture.
This would apply in particular to forcible return – or refoulement – which is prohibited under both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture. Kyrgyzstan is a signatory to both instruments.
UNHCR says the expulsion of four of the asylum-seekers was a serious violation of this principle and remains of serious concern because no international entities have been allowed access to the four. Their fate is unknown, as the wife of one of the deportees tearfully told Mr. Morjane during his visit. He discussed this issue with the authorities, who condemned it and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding it.
Mr. Morjane met senior Kyrgyz officials, including Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Foreign Minister Roza Atunbaeva and National Security Council Secretary Niyazov. He also visited the Uzbek asylum-seekers in Sasyk camp in western Kyrgyzstan. President Bakiev reiterated his pledge to not forcibly return any genuine refugees to Uzbekistan. Mr. Morjane welcomed this reaffirmation, but stressed that the refugee determination process needed to be fair and transparent.
During his meeting with the asylum-seekers, Mr. Morjane was impressed by their sincerity and peaceful nature. While he could not exclude that a minority may have committed violent acts, both his impressions and the status determination interviews to date would seem to confirm that the vast majority of this group can be considered refugees.