The United Nations human rights chief has praised Romania’s decision to give temporary shelter to more than 430 Uzbek refugees who fled violent unrest in their homeland two months ago.
“Romania's generous and courageous gesture is exemplary,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in a statement. The refugees were flown from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where the first sought refuge, to Romania on Friday under the good offices of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
“This move takes on even greater significance when one considers that the country is still recovering from disastrous flooding,” Ms. Arbour said.
She recalled that 15 Uzbeks remain in detention in Kyrgyzstan and reiterated her call not to return them to Uzbekistan, where they could face torture.
“The Kyrgyz authorities have been very cooperative, and I hope that they will continue to abide by international human rights and refugee law, which prohibits returning persons to a country where they may face torture,” she added.
UNHCR today reiterated its “serious concerns” and said it was still working with the Kyrgyz authorities for the release of the 15. “We hope that the people living in difficult circumstances in detention will be released as soon as possible,” said the Geneva-based director of UNHCR's Central Asia, South-west Asia, North Africa and Middle East bureau, Ekber Menemencioglu.
“There is a strong possibility that they would face persecution if returned to Uzbekistan. We have to remember that despite all our requests so far, we still have not received any official information about the four asylum-seekers who were deported in early June to Uzbekistan,” he added.
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.