HRW slams Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan for impeding asylum seekers

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Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan of preventing ethnic Uzbek refugees from seeking asylum from arrests and alleged torture at the hands of Kyrgyz police, it said.

"So many terrified people told Human Rights Watch that if the border was open and if they could get help in Uzbekistan, they would seek protection there," senior HRW researcher Gerry Simpson said from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, where ethnic clashes erupted last month.

"But instead they are stuck in their neighborhoods, afraid of being arrested, and fearful of what awaits them at the border and beyond."

HRW said in a statement that almost 100,000 of Kyrgyzstan's minority Uzbek population fled to Uzbekistan as ethnic bloodletting raged in the south of the ex-Soviet Central Asian state last month.

But while near all went home within days, the rights watchdog said Uzbek and Kyrgyz officials had used "fearmongering tactics" to force their swift return and were now impeding people from fleeing renewed violence.

It said Kyrgyz official had threatened to strip refugees of their property and citizenship if they failed to return and vote in a national referendum on June 27, with ethnic Uzbeks making up 14 percent of the Kyrgyz population.

Meanwhile, those refugees -- too fearful to return after the June slaughter that Kyrgyz officials say may have left up to 2,000 dead -- have gone into hiding now fearing arrest by Uzbek authorities, HRW said.

"Although Uzbekistan has the right to prevent certain people from entering or remaining in Uzbekistan... it may not close its borders to asylum seekers fleeing directly from persecution," the rights group said.

Since June, many ethnic Uzbeks have again abandoned their homes, fearing arrests, beatings and torture by Kyrgyz police who are hunting those suspected of involvement in last month's riots in raids HRW said targeted ethnic Uzbeks.

But hundreds of others who want to flee have not done so for fear of "abuses by Kyrgyz or police and security forces on the way to or at the border" and worry that "Uzbek authorities will not allow them to enter or stay", HRW said.

It cited witnesses saying that the border was heavily guarded and that at one border post at least Kyrgyz border guards had fired at civilians who approached seeking to cross.

© 2010 AFP

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