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Kyrgyzstan: UN refugee agency continues to seek release of 15 Uzbeks

Kyrgyzstan: UN refugee agency continues to seek release of 15 Uzbeks

The United Nations refugee agency said today it was continuing talks with the Kyrgyz Government on the release of 15 Uzbek nationals who fled violence in their homeland in May but remained under detention when more than 400 of their compatriots were airlifted to Romania last month.

“We had hoped the issue of the 15 would be resolved before the official swearing-in ceremony of the new President on Sunday, 14 August,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

“However, the Kyrgyz authorities have reiterated, that the 15 will not be deported to Uzbekistan, which is our major concern,” she added. UN officials have repeatedly voiced fears that they could they could face torture in Uzbekistan which has requested their return as criminals.

In June, four Uzbeks recognized as refugees by UNHCR were unlawfully deported to Uzbekistan. Since then, neither UNHCR nor any other organization or individual, has had access to them.

Earlier this week, the Uzbek authorities told UNHCR in a letter that the four were "self-reported criminals" who had returned voluntarily and were now being held in a detention facility, Ms. Pagonis said. But the agency has not been able to visit or talk to them and as a result remains extremely concerned about their well-being.

Meanwhile, in Romania, the 439 Uzbeks who were transferred are undergoing resettlement interviews.

“We are also able to conduct more detailed interviews with the refugees – many of whom are traumatized by their recent experiences – and gain a clearer picture of the reasons for their flight to Kyrgyzstan,” Ms. Pagonis said. The Uzbeks fled to Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of the violent events in Andijan on 12 and 13 May, when hundreds were reported to have died.