The United Nations refugee agency today again voiced “extreme concern” over the continued detention of 15 Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan after more than 400 of their compatriots, who fled violence in their homeland two months ago, were flown to Romania on Friday.
UN officials have already expressed fears that they could be returned to Uzbekistan where they could face torture.
“We are negotiating with the Kyrgyz authorities for their release and remain extremely concerned about their fate,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.
“We praise the Kyrgyz authorities for their exemplary cooperation in last week's transfer operation and urge them not to extradite any of the remaining Uzbeks, who are all people of concern to UNHCR,” she added. “We strongly reiterate that such a move would be contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan has acceded, and to Kyrgyz national law.”
Meanwhile a 14-strong UNHCR team has arrived in Romania over the last few days to help colleagues on the ground and the national authorities with resettlement procedures for the 439 Uzbek refugees who arrived last Friday. The refugees, including 74 women and 23 children, are staying in a reception centre in Timisoara, where they have received hot meals, and items such as soap, shampoo, towels and bed-linen, as well as medical attention.
The team is working closely with countries who have said they will accept the refugees for permanent resettlement in order to lessen the wait for the refugees, who have already undergone a considerable ordeal, and to respect the commitment made to Romania that their stay would be temporary and as short as possible.
The Uzbeks fled to Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of the violent events in Andijan on 12 and 13 May. The decision to fly them out to Romania was taken after several weeks of intense pressure during which some refugees and asylum-seekers were detained and four were deported to Uzbekistan.
UN officials, from Secretary-General Kofi Annan on down, have repeatedly voiced concern over possible forced repatriations. In June, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said returnees “may face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture and extra-judicial and summary executions.”