GENEVA - The United Nations refugee
agency (UNHCR) held an emergency meeting today in Geneva to urgently find
resettlement countries for Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan. Representatives
of several governments indicated their capitals were giving serious and
urgent consideration to the request.
The meeting was called after Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane, returning from a visit to Kyrgyzstan earlier this week, said that emergency resettlement was needed to protect the group. While the Kyrgyz government has been generous in receiving the Uzbeks, it is nonetheless clear that the asylum climate there is under intense pressure.
Morjane told representatives of Denmark, Finland, Australia, Germany, the United States, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom that expedited resettlement procedures were especially urgent for 29 of the 456 Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan. The 29 are currently in detention in the Kyrgyz city of Osh and under threat of deportation. Three UNHCR lawyers, along with the Kyrgyz authorities, have been carrying out accelerated status determination for the 29. It is not clear, however, whether the Kyrgyz authorities will be willing to release the 29 for resettlement.
The Assistant High Commissioner told those attending the meeting that their governments should consider it a formal request of resettlement for all Uzbek asylum seekers at risk in Kyrgyzstan. Resettlement could be quickly organised once agreement is reached with host governments.
Regarding the other 427 Uzbeks who are currently at Sasyk camp, near Jalalabad in western Kyrgyzstan, Morjane said he had been shocked by the precariousness of their situation when he visited the camp earlier this week. The Uzbek government has demanded that more than 100 of them to be returned. The Assistant High Commissioner said that, if the situation further deteriorated, a humanitarian evacuation might have to be organised for the entire group. Given the lack of an independent investigation into the 13 May events in Andijan that led to their flight, UNHCR considers that the Uzbek asylum seekers deserve the benefit of the doubt, and should be given international protection.
"I have been to Sasyk camp, I have talked to the people there," Morjane told the government representatives. "From what I have been able to see, they are people like you and me, who have left their country, and often their family, because they were scared. They are still scared, perhaps even more today. There is little doubt what will happen to them if they are sent back to Uzbekistan. The international community cannot let this happen."
Four of the Uzbeks were forcibly returned to Uzbekistan on 9 June. The refugee agency and other international organisations have tried without success to get access to them and have repeatedly sought information about them from Uzbek authorities. Yesterday, UNHCR received unofficial information that one of the four was lingering in a military hospital in critical condition.
Morjane pledged UNHCR and international support for the Kyrgyz, who have received the Uzbek refugees during a particularly sensitive transitional period following a change of regime, and shortly before general elections on 10 July. As his mission and today's urgent meeting with resettlement countries illustrate, UNHCR is making every effort to find a rapid solution to this situation while ensuring international protection standards are met. Thus, there should be no forcible return, or refoulement, which is prohibited under both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture. Kyrgyzstan is a signatory to both instruments.
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