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Kyrgyzstan: More Uzbeks May be Sent Back

Bishkek government insists “dangerous criminals” amongst Uzbek refugees must go.
By Jalil Saparov

Kyrgyzstan intends to send back another 29 refugees who fled neighbouring Uzbekistan following the Andijan crackdown last month in which hundreds died.

Prosecutor general Azimbek Beknazarov told a parliamentary session on June 23 that the refugees in question were “dangerous criminals”, though he didn’t specify if they were among those who escaped from the Andijan prison.

Following the jailbreak, there was an impromptu rally in the town, which government troops brutally crushed, killing hundreds of people. Some in the prison were businessmen charged with religious extremism, while others were allegedly members of the radical Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

“Some of them have committed murder,” said Beknazarov of the returnees. “Uzbekistan gives us materials, and we examine them. We study these cases, and we will extradite everyone to Uzbekistan who really has committed crimes. We have obligations, and we will fulfil them.”

He said the Uzbek prosecutor general’s office has requested the extradition of over 100 people from the refugee camp in the Suzak district of Kyrgyzstan’s Jalalabad region. “Currently we have put 29 citizens of the neighbouring country in a detention centre after a joint investigation of their involvement in criminal activities,” Beknazarov told IWPR.

There are currently more than 400 people in the camp. Kyrgyzstan began sending refugees back earlier this month, with four being handed over to the Uzbek authorities on June 9.

The international community has expressed concern over the practise, with two United Nations agencies issuing a statement on June 23 urging Bishkek to refrain from forcibly returning the refugees.

The same day, Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, accused the Tashkent authorities of torturing citizens in the aftermath of the Andijan violence.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and his human rights counterpart Louise Arbor also called on the Uzbek authorities to stop placing pressure on the families of refugees to urge their relatives to return home.

“There are well-founded reasons to believe that asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan, in particular those currently in detention, may face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture and extra-judicial and summary executions, if returned to Uzbekistan,” said Arbor.

And Guterres stressed that if the 29 detained refugees in question were to be handed over to the Uzbek authorities “there must be a proper procedure, not a hasty effort to rubber stamp a politically expedient ending to the current tensions with Uzbekistan".

But Beknazarov hit back at the storm of protest that the forced repatriations have caused both at home and abroad. “I held talks with almost all interested international organisations and expressed my strict position to them,” he said.

“Kyrgyzstan fulfils all its duties both in observing the rights of refugees and in extraditing criminals back to their home country.”

Pressure on the refugees to leave the relative safety of the camp is coming not just from the Kyrgyz and Uzbek governments but also from family members.

The head of one Andijan makhallya (neighbourhood committee) who wished to remain anonymous said refugees’ relatives are being forced by Uzbek authorities into persuading their family member to go home.

“There are two refugees there from our makhallya,” the man told IWPR. “They don’t even want to listen to their relatives, and said categorically that they would never return to Andijan.”

A young refugee woman said members of her makhallya tried to physically drag her from the camp.

“Look at my arms, see the scars on them?” she said. “This happened when they wanted to take me away from here. But I know that if we return, we can expect repressions.

“We will be tortured and tormented, and we may even be raped. It’s better to die here, than lose our honour there. That’s why we’re not going back.”

Swedish journalist Ellin Jonsson witnessed a crowd of some 80-100 people storming the camp, attacking its deputy commander and demanding that all Uzbek refugees leave Kyrgyzstan immediately.

“They said directly that unless the refugees left within three days then armed horsemen would deal with them,” he said.

The refugees insist the Uzbek National Security Service, NSS, is behind the campaign to force them to return home. One elderly refugee recognised an officer from the Andijan NSS among the crowd of “local residents” who invaded the camp.

The head of the UNHCR in Jalalabad, Vano Nupekhon, said that Kyrgyzstan is responsible for the safety of the refugees and said security would be increased at the camp.

Local human rights groups have expressed outrage at the recent events.

Baktykan Japarova from the Jalalabad group Justice told IWPR that she personally helped three refugees as their relatives tried to force them to leave. All this happened, she said, as Kyrgyz soldiers simply stood by and watched.

“Kyrgyzstan human rights activists are simply astounded by some of the actions by the authorities here towards people seeking refuge,” he said.

“Instead of making the lot of these Uzbekistan citizens easier, respecting their rights and international norms of law and important documents which were ratified by our state, our authorities do the opposite.”

Jalil Saparov is an independent journalist in Jalalabad. Anvar Makhkamov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Uzbekistan. Sultan Jumagulov, a regular IWPR correspondent, contributed to this story.

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