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Rights Group Says Kyrgyzstan Not Protecting Refugees


Human Rights Watch says Kyrgyzstan is not protecting asylum seekers and refugees and is violating international law. The groups says the country forcibly returned four Uzbek refugees to neighboring Uzbekistan recently, jeopardizing their safety.

The Kyrgyz government's record on protecting Uzbek refugees and asylum-seekers who fled last year's violent uprising in Andijan has been mixed.

In the first months after the violence, during which Uzbek government troops reportedly opened fire on civilians, authorities in Bishkek sent back four Uzbeks and secretly jailed others, before bowing to international pressure to protect the refugees.

More than a year later, the Kyrgyz government appears to be coming under increasing pressure from Uzbekistan to return hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers.

The presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Islam Karimov, are preparing to meet next month in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

Human Rights Watch Moscow Director Allison Gill tells VOA the growing closeness between Kyrgyzstan, a fledgling democracy, and authoritarian Uzbekistan, is cause for concern.

"In the last two weeks, we have had at least four (Uzbek refugees) either disappear or forcibly returned to Uzbekistan from Southern Kyrgyzstan," said Gill. "One of those was staying at the house of a government official. So, its really clear that either Kyrgyz authorities are actively cooperating with the Uzbek government, or they are tacitly allowing the Uzbek security services to operate in Kyrgyzstan and, in either case, its an absolutely shocking abandonment of Kyrgyzstan's international obligations."

Under the rules of the 1951 Refugee Convention, Kyrgyzstan has agreed to ban the forced return of refugees and asylum seekers to a country where they face torture or persecution.

Kyrgyz officials have not publicly responded to the allegations. This week the head of Uzbekistan's prison in Andijan, Ismail Pulatov, was quoted by Interfax as saying that no Uzbek nationals had been forcibly returned to the facility.

Human Rights Watch says any Andijan refugee returned to Uzbekistan is at risk of being tortured or forced to publicly incriminate themselves for involvement in the uprising. Gill says Uzbekistan is continuing a campaign of massive intimidation.

"By cooperating with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan is really turning its back on the rest of the international community, who all pledged to support Kyrgyzstan to stand up to the Uzbeks," said Gill. "When Kyrgyzstan did the right thing last summer and prevented the return of the four Uzbeks, they received lots of international support and pledges of further support if they were to continue to protect the refugees. So, they have caved into bullies is the only way I can say it. "

Gill says Uzbek asylum seekers are no longer safe in Kyrgyzstan.

The United States is urging the Kyrgyz government to investigate the allegations and take immediate steps to ensure the safety and rights of all refugees and asylum-seekers.

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