Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbek Refugees Fear for Safety in Kazakstan

By News Briefing Central Asia
The recent detention and interrogation of Uzbek nationals seeking asylum in Kazakstan has highlighted concerns about how refugees are treated there.

Officers from the local branch of Kazakstan’s Committee for National Security, KNB, detained a number of Uzbek nationals resident in Almaty in a raid on the homes of three families overnight on September 6-7.

“Three plainclothes burst into our house, knocked me to the floor, beat me and broke my nose,” said one man, who arrived in Almaty seeking asylum in March this year.

He said officers put black sacks over the heads of male members of the families, handcuffed them, and took them to the KNB office for interrogation.

“They asked us where we were hiding weapons – grenades, automatic rifles and pistols – at home. They told us they’d received information from Uzbekistan that we had killed policemen there and escaped to Kazakstan,” another man told NBCentral Asia.

After three hours of questioning, the KNB officers apologised and let the men go.

KNB headquarters in the capital Astana acknowledged that the refugees were questioned but denied any mistreatment took place.

“Our officers checked their passports, as it is fully their right to do,” Mukhtar Anarbekov, a spokesman for the agency, told NBCentral Asia. “They were released. No assaults on Uzbek refugees took place.”

All the detainees had ID cards according them asylum-seeker status and issued by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR.

Cesar Dubon, who heads the UNHCR mission in Almaty, said his agency had sent a protest note to the Kazak foreign ministry regarding the case.

He said it was not unusual for Uzbek refugees to be detained and assaulted in Kazakstan, adding that UNHCR was “very concerned” about the frequency of such incidents.

“However, the UNHCR mission is not currently in a position to protect all of these refugees,” he added.

The UNHCR mission in Kazakstan extends its protection to about 100 refugees from various countries, but most from Uzbekistan.

Kazakstan ratified the UN refugee convention in 1998, placing it under an obligation to accept asylum-seekers.

Local human rights activists and international experts are hoping the Kazak parliament will adopt a national law on refugees in the near future; it is currently being debated. The law sets out protections for refugees who are detained without good cause.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)