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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

 

UN concerned for refugees in Kyrgyzstan

From Reuters AlertNet:

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.

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