Uzbekistan must halt forcible return of refugees to Kyrgyzstan
The Uzbekistani authorities must stop forcibly returning refugees to Kyrgyzstan while fears persist of continuing instability in the south of Kyrgyzstan, Amnesty International said on Thursday. "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 10 June 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. According to satellite images assessed by the UN Institute for Training and Research, 1,807 buildings in Osh have been "totally destroyed" and others have been severely damaged. 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 25 June. "People fled their homes because they feared for their lives. They fled shootings, arson attacks and destruction. It is premature of the Kyrgyzstani authorities to encourage refugees to return before they can ensure their safety," said Andrea Huber. "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 said it 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 Andrea Huber. "Only an international investigation will be considered unbiased and credible by all affected groups."