4 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a spokesperson for the Geneva-based UNHCR, told RFE/RL that the agency has an agreement with Bucharest that the Uzbek refugees can stay up to six months in Romania.
Van Genderen Stort says, however, that the period for finding permanent resettlement will be much shorter, tentatively between two weeks and two months depending on several conditions.
“We think this will be much shorter but for some countries it takes longer than in other countries," Van Genderen Stort said. "There might be some that will have finished their business in a couple of weeks and some that need a couple of months. And that depends on how many people it takes, how long the procedures to interview, processing, paper processing and everything takes. But anyway, it should be all shorter than six months.”
So far, only the United States, Australia, and Canada have declared their commitment to accept some of the 439 refugees stationed in Timisoara, Romania. But it is reported that on the ground in Romania are also representatives of Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Van Genderen Stort also says that the question of quotas -- that is, how many refugees will be taken by each country providing shelter -- is now being discussed.
“As for the quota -- this is still something that is being decided on the ground," she said. "There are some teams of resettlement countries that started arriving in Romania and I think this is something that is going to be discussed in the coming days.”
Jennifer Pagonis, an official at the UNHCR who is directly involved in the Uzbek refugee issue, said the background investigation for those recognized as refugees by UNHCR continues in Romania, where teams from the potential countries for permanent resettlement are conducting their own investigation and review.
“We’re working closely with the countries who’re interested in resettling permanently these refugees," Pagonis said. "A number of representatives of these countries are in the country [Romania] now at the moment and with the help of our staff they will be conducting interviews with the refugees. The aim is to be as thorough and quick as possible in order to lessen the weight for the refugees who’ve already undergone a considerable ordeal.”
Van Genderen Stort said that as of 3 August one more of the 15 remaining Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyz custody has received official refugee status. That brings the total number of the refugees in Kyrgyzstan now granted official refugee status to 12. The status of the remaining three will be decided in the coming days.
Tashkent has put a strong pressure on Bishkek to return those 15 claiming they are common criminals and members of radical Islamist groups.
But an earlier unfortunate action of the Kyrgyz authorities, Astrid Van Genderen Stort tells RFE/RL, when they forcibly returned four asylum seekers to Uzbekistan on 9 June, has made UNHCR determined not to allow this to happen again.
“Since June we have not received any news from these people. We have not been allowed access to these people, not only us but the UN [Commissioner] for Human Rights, nobody has had access to these people and we’ve heard all kinds of rumors," Van Genderen Stort. "And we think, if these people didn’t fear any persecution, if they didn’t fear anything upon return why wouldn’t we be allowed access to these people?”
On 1 August, the refugee agency received unofficial information that one of the four was in critical condition at a military hospital in Tashkent.
The UNHCR maintains constant liaisons with Uzbekistan authorities, Van Genderen Stort says, on the ground in Uzbekistan and through Uzbekistan’s diplomatic mission in Geneva.See also:
Kazakhstan Is A New Destination For Uzbek Refugees