The United Nations refugee agency today expressed its concern over the temporary detention and alleged mistreatment of Uzbek refugees and asylum-seekers that took place last week in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.
The five men – three refugees and two asylum-seekers – reported to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that at a group of at least six armed and masked men entered their homes in the city at midnight on Monday and took them away for questioning.
“In one of the raids, one refugee was allegedly beaten and suffered a broken nose,” agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.
Upon being taken to the Almaty Department of the Committee of National Security (DKNB), the refugees and asylum-seekers say they were verbally abused and threatened with immediate deportation to Uzbekistan, Ms. Fleming said.
They were released several hours later by the DKNB, which stated unofficially that they were arrested on suspicion of involvement in killing a policeman in their home country following the issuing of a search warrant from Uzbekistan.
“Refugees reported that at the time of detention some of them were handcuffed, and that plastic bags or woven hats were placed over their faces,” Ms. Fleming noted.
Although they are registered with UNHCR, they were not allowed to contact the agency or their relatives, nor were the provided with legal representation, she added.
People from neighbouring countries are “particularly vulnerable” as they do not have access to Kazakhstan’s asylum system, the spokesperson said, with their international protection needs determined by UNHCR, which has formally protested the incident to Kazakh authorities.
“We urge the Government of Kazakhstan, as a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol to respect its commitment to protecting refugees.”