Ukraine Deports 11 Uzbeks In Breach Of Law: UNHCR

GENEVA, Switzerland -- The United Nations refugee agency accused Ukraine on Thursday of forcibly deporting 11 Uzbek asylum-seekers to their homeland in violation of international law and said it feared they may be tortured there.

Uzbek asylum-seekers in Kyrgyzstan

Uzbekistan requested the extradition of the men for alleged involvement in protests in the eastern town of Andizhan last May. Witnesses say 500 people, mostly unarmed civilians, were killed there in a bloody government crackdown.

The Uzbek government says its troops put down a rebellion by foreign-funded Islamist militants and killed 187 people, mostly "bandits" and "terrorists".

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the 11 Uzbeks, arrested about a week ago in Crimea, had been forced home on Tuesday night without going through full and fair asylum procedures, including the right to appeal.

"We deplore this action, which the (Ukrainian) authorities carried out in contravention of their international obligations," said Pirkko Kourula, director of the UNHCR's bureau for Europe.

The UNHCR, which had sought access to the detained Uzbeks to assess their asylum claims, said in a statement: "Being the subject of an extradition request does not remove an asylum seeker or refugee from international refugee protection".

The practice of "refoulement" -- forcibly returning a refugee or asylum-seeker to their homeland -- contravenes the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, signed by Ukraine, the Geneva-based U.N. agency said.

It is also a breach of the U.N. Convention against Torture to send persons back to countries where they may face torture or mistreatment.

"With a regime like Uzbekistan, it is very likely they could be subjected to torture, that is why we are so concerned," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said.

Earlier on Thursday, Kyrgyzstan's top court rejected an asylum claim by two Uzbek refugees who fled Andizhan and have U.N. refugee status, paving the way for their extradition.

"Despite this decision by the Kyrgyz court, we hope that none of these people will be extradited to Uzbekistan," Spindler said.

The UNHCR flew 439 Uzbek refugees, who fled to Kyrgyzstan after the Andizhan shootings, to Romania last year and more than 100 of them have since left for resettlement in third countries, Spindler said.

Source: Reuters