United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the authorities of Kyrgyzstan to facilitate the evacuation of Uzbek refugees and asylum-seekers, following reports that a number of them were being prevented from leaving a detention centre.
“Returning refugees or asylum-seekers to a country where they may face torture is a violation of international refugee and human rights law,” Mr. Annan said in a statement amid reports that Uzbek officials were present at the detention centre in Osh, western Kyrgyzstan in an apparent effort to press for the repatriation of 12 Uzbek detainees.
The detainees are among more than 450 refugees who fled unrest in their homeland in May.
“The Secretary-General also reminds the Kyrgyz authorities that this prohibition – the principle of non-refoulement – is absolute and may not be derogated from or circumvented through any other undertaking, be that a bilateral treaty or any other arrangement,” the statement added.
Earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said she was “extremely concerned” over the situation and stressed that Kyrgyzstan is a party to the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit returning people to countries where they may face torture.
She recalled that the UN Committee against Torture has expressed concern about the numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations of particularly brutal acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed by law enforcement personnel in Uzbekistan.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday began an airlift that is to take 455 Uzbeks, including those at Osh, to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek pending a further transfer to other countries.
“I am heartened to learn that the Kyrgyz authorities have assured UNHCR that the matter will be handled in an appropriate way,” Ms. Arbour said. “I hope that means the authorities will abide by their human rights obligations as well.”
UNHCR announced today that the refugees in Bishkek will tomorrow fly to Romania, which has agreed to host them on a temporary basis pending their transfer to permanent resettlement countries.
“It is an extremely generous move on the part of the Romanian government, and a brave decision too,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said. “This profoundly humanitarian gesture is particularly significant as it comes when Romania is recovering from extensive flooding. My agency will take full responsibility for the well-being of the refugees and will ensure their stay is short.”