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Tuesday 15 November 2005
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UZBEKISTAN: UN refugee agency reacts to Tashkent's criticism

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

ANKARA, 24 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has denied claims by the Uzbek authorities that it is harbouring alleged criminals and terrorists.

"We are absolutely not in the business of protecting criminals or terrorists as was claimed by the Uzbek prosecutor [general]," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for UNHCR, speaking from Geneva on Wednesday.

"Under international refugee law, people guilty of serious crimes are explicitly excluded from refugee status," Colville added.

His comments came one day after the office of Uzbekistan's prosecutor general accused the refugee agency of protecting terrorists and criminals, while referring to a recent airlift of more than 400 Uzbek asylum seekers from Kyrgyzstan and a refusal to extradite those wanted by Tashkent.

The Uzbek prosecutor general's office said in a statement that the decision by UNHCR and the Kyrgyz authorities not to extradite the Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan following the mass killings in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan in May but instead to evacuate them to a third country as refugees, contradicted the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. The statement added that it also ignored Kyrgyz refugee law that states the convention should not be applied in relation to individuals that have committed grave crimes of a non-political nature.

Hundreds of Uzbeks fled across the border to Kyrgyzstan following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in Andijan. Upwards of 1,000 unarmed civilians may have been killed in the protests, according to rights groups. The Uzbek government claims the death toll was 187.

Almost 440 of the registered Uzbeks staying in Kyrgyzstan who were granted refugee status by UNHCR were airlifted to Romania awaiting third country resettlement in late July.

Another 15 had been held in custody in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh since May, pending consideration of an extradition request by Tashkent for alleged terrorist and criminal activities. Eleven of them were later granted UNHCR-mandated refugee status. The remaining four appealed against the decision by the Kyrgyz migration department, which had denied them refugee status.

"The problem at the moment is that the Uzbek government is alleging serious crimes by some of the people who fled [from Andijan] but they haven't produced any evidence. If refugees or asylum seekers around the world were simply sent back on the basis of allegations made by their country of origin, then there would be no refugee system globally. If there is some very serious evidence against anyone, then we obviously would like to see it and we told the Uzbek authorities that," Colville said.


 Theme(s) Human Rights
Other recent UZBEKISTAN reports:

Andijan refugees in Romania await third-country resettlement ,  10/Nov/05

Rights group and opposition condemn jailing of leader,  2/Nov/05

UN rights experts question Andijan trial,  27/Oct/05

Arrest of moderate opposition leader politically motivated - rights groups,  25/Oct/05

Media development NGO folds,  13/Oct/05

Other recent Human Rights reports:

CHAD-SENEGAL: Ex-president Habre detained, 15/Nov/05

UGANDA: HRW demands release of key opposition politician, 15/Nov/05

RWANDA: Former interior minister pleads not guilty to genocide charge, 14/Nov/05

RWANDA: Belgian priest still in prison, 14/Nov/05

NAMIBIA: Govt appeals for info on mass graves, 14/Nov/05

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