The UN's Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Kamel Morjane, expressed concern about Kyrgyz threats to repatriate Uzbek refugees fleeing mass killings in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan last month. He was speaking in the capital, Bishkek on Monday.
"We are especially concerned that 29 people who are today in detention in [the southern Kyrgyz city of] Osh. They were taken from the [Uzbek] refugee camp in Jalal-Abad after official requests from Uzbekistan", Morjane said at a press conference.
There has been growing international concern about the plight of nearly 500 Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan following the killings and this prompted the two-day visit by Morjane to learn more about the situation in the area.
The UN official, who has visited the asylum seekers, said it was hard to agree with Tashkent's assertion that the Uzbek exiles were all wrongdoers.
"Being in the camp and talking with the refugees I did not get the impression that I was in a camp with terrorists and extremists. I'm not saying they were all angels but certainly the majority appeared clean," Morjane said.
In an indication of how seriously the UN is taking the asylum seekers' situation, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke by phone to acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Saturday, urging him to respect the groups' rights. The converation appears to have resulted in a new commitment from Bishkek, which earlier seemed to be wavering in its decision to allow the group to stay, under pressure from its powerful neighbour.
"Today, Bakiyev reassured UNHCR that there would not be any forcible return of genuine refugees to Uzbekistan," Morjane told IRIN. He went on to welcome this reaffirmation but stressed that the process to determine who is a refugee needed to be fair and transparent and should include the right to appeal against unfavourable decisions. The UNHCR official also expressed concern about the fact that Uzbek security forces appeared to have access to the asylum seekers' camp.
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
Support the Belarusian cartoonists
Third Way, the Belarusian organisation whose members are being prosecuted for producing satirical cartoons about Lukashenka,
have set up a web page where you can make a donation via PayPal. The group urgently
need money for their legal defence and operating expenses. Please give what you can today! Read more
We are continuing to focus our efforts on the Belarusian prisoner of conscience Mikhail Marinich.
We are campaigning for him to receive proper medical treatment, to be permitted to see his family,
and ultimately to be released from prison pending a review of his case. You can help by distributing
our factsheets and letters.
Members of these groups have joined our blog to share their views and experiences.