Thanking Romania for agreeing to receive the Uzbek refugees, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said on Thursday, "It is an extremely generous move on the part of the Romanian government, and a brave decision too. This profound humanitarian gesture is of particular significance at a time when Romania is recovering from extensive flooding. My agency will take full responsibility for the well-being of the refugees and will ensure their stay is short."
The Uzbeks first arrived in Kyrgyzstan after fleeing Uzbekistan in the wake of the violent events in Andijan in mid-May. The decision to launch a humanitarian transfer was taken after several weeks of intense pressure during which some refugees and asylum seekers were detained and four were deported to Uzbekistan.
In the first leg of the transfer on Wednesday, UNHCR airlifted all 426 refugees on 10 Yak-40 flights from Sasik camp in western Kyrgyzstan to Bishkek. One plane is currently on standby at the airport in the Kyrgyz border town of Osh, ready to transfer the 29 Uzbeks have been detained there for the past two months.
For the next phase of the humanitarian transfer on Friday morning, a Boeing-747 funded by the UN refugee agency and chartered by the International Organization for Migration is set to fly the refugees from Bishkek to Timisoara. A UNHCR team is already in Romania to assist the authorities and conduct further resettlement interviews. UNHCR is working closely with several countries that have expressed an interest in resettling the Uzbek refugees permanently.
UNHCR legal experts have concluded that 452 of the total group of 455 Uzbeks are considered refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, while three who are pending status determination are of concern to UNHCR. All are in need of international protection. Any attempt to send them back to territories where their life or freedom would be threatened would be a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan has acceded, and of Kyrgyz national law.