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Uzbekistan: UN, Czech Efforts Reunite Andijon Refugee Families

Some of the Andijon refugees soon after their arrival in the Czech Republic in mid-2006 (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, June 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Three refugee families who fled a deadly clampdown in eastern Uzbekistan more than two years ago have been reunited with their young children, thanks to the efforts of Czech and UN officials.

The parents were among hundreds resettled to the Czech Republic and other Western countries after Uzbek security forces fired on a large public demonstration in Andijon in May 2005 and many residents fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Four of the six children, from the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, hadn't seen either of their parents for more than two years. The other two were traveling with their mother to join their father.

Family members gathered at Prague's international airport to meet the new arrivals. The reunion was an emotional event both for the parents -- who have been living as refugees in Liberec, in the northern Czech Republic -- and the children, who had been left behind to live with their grandparents.

These families' two-year wait was capped by a risky seven-day odyssey that took the children and lone mother from their homeland to their new home.

Czech authorities cited a lack of success "on a diplomatic level" ahead of the children's escape and subsequent reunion.

The director of the Czech Interior Ministry's department for asylum and migration policy, Tomas Haisman, was interviewed by Czech Television once the families were together. He said the Uzbek authorities' closure of local operations by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) made it impossible to request the reunions through any "official path."

No Simple Task

The woman and the children had to find their own way to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where the Czech Interior Ministry and UNHCR could offer help. Those groups organized the children's trip to Prague, providing them with travel documents to Europe.

They were flown from Bishkek to London, and then took another flight to Prague. One of the children, a young girl, told reporters that she didn't know whether her parents would be waiting at the airport to meet her.

Europe and other Western contacts with Uzbekistan's government entered a frosty period after strongman President Islam Karimov rejected international pleas for an independent probe into the events at Andijon. Uzbek officials insist that fewer than 200 people died -- most of them criminals in an attempt to overthrow the government, and security troops. But rights groups and eyewitnesses have accused authorities of killing many hundreds of peaceful demonstrators.

Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer announced that he was "proud" of the Czech role in reuniting these refugees and their families, whom he described as "persecuted" in their home country.

Haisman stressed that there was a delicate operation behind the children's arrival in the Czech Republic.

"At any time, a problem could have arisen that might have ruined the entire operation," Haisman told Czech Television.

Marta Miklusakova, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Prague, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the reunion was "not an easy thing to do."

"It is not an easy decision to make for the people concerned -- be it the refugees who already came to the Czech Republic in 2005 asking their family members to come, or the family members in Uzbekistan making the decision to go and follow their husbands or wives," Miklusakova said. "But governments, in general, do not assist their own refugees. On the contrary, many try to make their lives very difficult -- even after these people flee abroad."

Others Wait...And Hope

Hundreds of residents left the city of Andijon for neighboring Kyrgyzstan in the days following the violence. Some were granted asylum in Europe, the United States, and Canada. Some returned to Uzbekistan.

The Czech Republic initially took in 15 Andijon refugees, and the children of other Uzbek refugees in Liberec remain in Uzbekistan.

Some of them said that rather than bringing their children to the Czech Republic, they hope someday to return to their homeland without risk of persecution.

One of them, a woman who did not want her name used, recently gave birth to a baby boy. She said she and her fifth child have had no contact with her other four children, whom she left with their grandparents in Andijon.

"All my [other] children are there. All of them are there -- all four children," she told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

She said she hopes that one day her baby boy, Abubakr, is able to return to Andijon to see his homeland and to meet his siblings.

(This piece was compiled from reports and interviews by RFE/RL's Uzbek and Kyrgyz Services.)

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