Amnesty International Urges Uzbekistan to Halt Forcible Return of Refugees to Kyrgyzstan

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Amnesty International Urges Uzbekistan to Halt Forcible Return of Refugees to Kyrgyzstan

WASHINGTON - The Uzbekistani authorities must stop forcibly returning refugees to Kyrgyzstan while fears persist of continuing instability in the south of Kyrgyzstan, Amnesty International said today.

"We urge the Uzbekistani government to not expel, coerce or persuade refugees from Kyrgyzstan to go back to their homes until they can return in safety," said Andrea Huber, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.

Despite government claims to the contrary, the security situation in southern Kyrgyzstan remains volatile and unstable. The Uzbek population does not trust the security forces of Kyrgyzstan who have proved unable to protect them and have been accused of collusion in killings and lootings.

The deadly violence is said to have started with clashes between rival gangs of mostly Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths on June 10 and rapidly escalated, reportedly leaving more than 2,000 people dead and thousands injured. Around 400,000 people are reported to have fled their homes and about 100,000 are believed to have fled to Uzbekistan.

Amnesty International has been told that refugees were forced onto buses to Kyrgyzstan by refugee camp officers and Uzbekistani security forces in the Pakhtaabad district in Uzbekistan. An Uzbek refugee told Amnesty International: "Many of us don't want to go, we fear for our lives, but we have no choice."

Reportedly, officials from Kyrgyzstan have visited people in refugee camps in Uzbekistan urging them to return. One of the refugees in the Pakhtaabad district informed Amnesty International that the governor of Jalal-Abad Region visited the camp and told the refugees that everyone had to leave by June 25.

"People fled their homes because they feared for their lives. They fled shootings, arson attacks and destruction," said Huber. "It is premature of the Kyrgyzstani authorities to encourage refugees to return before they can ensure their safety. The Kyrgyzstani interim government appears to be encouraging refugees to return in order to proceed with its planned referendum on the constitution and on the interim President on Sunday. The authorities should not put the lives of thousands at risk for the sake of political convenience."

Amnesty International believes that the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is still volatile because the Kyrgyzstani government does not have the confidence of the Uzbek population that they will be protected from renewed violent attacks.

"Amnesty International is calling for an international investigation into the violent events that have taken place in the past week in southern Kyrgyzstan," said Huber. "Only an international investigation will be considered unbiased and credible by all affected groups."

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