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Uzbekistan Tells UNHCR to Leave

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says the government of Uzbekistan has given the agency one month to leave the country. The UNHCR and the Uzbek government have been at odds over a group of Uzbek refugees who fled the country last May, following a bloody crackdown on protesters in the town of Andijan.

UNHCR spokeswoman Astrid van Genderen Stort tells VOA the Uzbek authorities told the agency there is no further reason for it to remain in the country. "Obviously, we do not know exactly what has triggered that," she said. "There have been a lot of things that have happened over the past year that have not been completely satisfactory to the Uzbek government. We believe we have executed our protection mandate as best as we could. We have done our task and our work, as we always do, wherever in the world, according to our mandate, and we would like to continue this. But, the Uzbek government does not seem to think the same way."

During the past year, the UNHCR and the Uzbek government have locked horns over the situation of hundreds of Uzbek refugees. More than 400 Uzbeks fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan following bloody riots in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May 2005.

The UNHCR spokeswoman says the Uzbek authorities claimed the refugees were terrorists, and should be sent home to Uzbekistan. "But UNHCR, after a status determination, we assessed that these people were indeed refugees, and were fleeing persecution," she explained. "And, we assessed also that they were in need of protection and found an alternative country for the people. So, in July 2005, some 439 people were flown out of Kyrgyzstan to Romania from where they - half of them have been resettled now.... Well, it definitely did not make the Uzbek government happy, because the Uzbek government has a different assessment of these people."

The spokeswoman says the UNHCR remains concerned about the fate of four Uzbeks detained in Kyrgyzstan, who are under possible threat of deportation. She says the agency also is concerned about the fate of an increasing number of Uzbek asylum-seekers, who have been detained in countries of the former Soviet Union and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission has accused Uzbekistan of widespread and systematic torture, and has joined previous appeals made by the UNHCR for countries to refrain from forcibly returning asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan.