ANKARA, 4 August (IRIN) - The fate of more than a dozen Uzbeks who fled violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan in May and are currently being detained in southern Kyrgyzstan remains unclear, pending a decision by the Kyrgyz prosecutor general.
"There is no final decision on this aspect yet. Representatives of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Uzbek side are actively involved in this issue along with our Kyrgyz group," Asan Kangeldiev, head of the information and external relations department of the office of the prosecutor general, said from the capital Bishkek on Thursday.
"The office of the prosecutor general is not planning for the time being to deport any Uzbeks held in detention and the issue is still under consideration," Kangeldiev maintained. "The decision will be made after consultations with UNHCR and the Uzbek side," he added.
More than 500 Uzbeks fled across the border to Kyrgyzstan in May, following a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests in Andijan, in which upwards of 1,000 unarmed civilians may have been killed, according to rights groups. The Uzbek government said that the death toll was 187.
But while a statement from the the prosecutor general said on Monday that the Andijan 15 should be sent back to Uzbekistan, Kangeldiev explained: "This was a viewpoint from the prosecutor general's office, but we need to assess the arguments from UNHCR as well."
"According to the Kyrgyz legislation, there is a period of six months for determination of the refugee status, while in some cases it could be extended up to a year," Zafar Hakimov, head of the Kyrgyz migration department, told IRIN.
Their comments came one day after the UN refugee agency reiterated its concern over the plight of the 15 men, 12 of whom had been announced UNHCR mandated refugees, but remained in custody in the southern city of Osh after 439 of their fellow exiles had been airlifted to Romania on Friday.
According to UNHCR, three men were currently undergoing status determination and therefore were under the protection of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Moreover, 11 of the 15 had already been accepted by three European countries for resettlement.
"We hope that the people living in difficult circumstances in detention will be released as soon as possible," Ekber Menemencioglu, the Geneva-based director of UNHCR's Central Asia, Southwest Asia, North Africa and Middle East bureau, said. "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 stressed that the 1951 Refugee Convention was an internationally recognised legal instrument to which Bishkek was a signatory. "We continue to have faith that the Kyrgyz authorities will stand by their principles and release these people before long," Menemencioglu added.
Meanwhile, the 439 Uzbeks who were airlifted to Romania were now staying in a reception centre in the western city of Timisoara, UNHCR reported, where they were currently receiving medical attention and assistance items for what UNHCR assured the Romanian government would be a short stay.
Countries like Australia, Canada and the United States were now working closely with the UN refugee agency staff and Romanian authorities to interview the refugees for permanent resettlement.
[This Item is Delivered to the "Asia-English" Service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: IRIN@ocha.unon.org or Web: http://www.irinnews.org . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Reposting by commercial sites requires written IRIN permission.]
Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005