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Human Rights Group Reports On Tajik Refugees In Afghanistan

Washington, May 30 (RFE/RL) - An international human rights group is urging the government of Tajikistan to protect refugees returning from Afghanistan from abuse and discrimination.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch today released a report on the treatment of Tajik returnees. It calls on the Dushanbe government to protect returnees and "investigate and prosecute attacks on and threats against returning refugees as required by both Tajik and international law."

The report also asks the Tajik opposition to allow relief efforts of the United Nations and other international groups access to refugee camps in the Konduz and Takhar provinces of northern Afghanistan.

During the 1992 civil war, some 26,000 Tajiks fled to northern Afghanistan and most still remain there in four refugee camps in the provinces of Balkh, Konduz and Takhar.

Human Rights Watch has been monitoring human rights practices regularly in Tajikistan since 1994 when it opened an office in Dushanbe. Representatives of the group travelled in the region and also went to Afghanistan last December to inspect the camps.

The report says they found extremely poor living conditions in three refugee camps in Konduz and Takhar which are controlled by the Tajik opposition.

The report says there is not enough food, inadequate medical supplies and a high incidence of disease, including malaria and typhoid. It says refugees in Konduz and Takhar "face persistent and life-threatening squalor that would be alleviated by greater access for the United Nations and humanitarian organizations."

The report says the opposition has blocked access to the camps, hampers relief efforts and impedes the attempts of some refugees who want to go home.

According to the report, only the Iranian Red Crescent is allowed access to the camps, along with a few other private organizations.

The report says "the identities and operations of these groups are secretive although it is widely believed that they originate in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries."

In the fourth camp in the Balkh province, which is controlled by the United Nations, the report says refugees are being heavily pressured to repatriate.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has announced it will end its care program in the Sakhi camp in the Bakh province next month and is increasing pressure to persuade the refugees to return to Tajikistan, sometimes by restricting food allotments.

But, according to the report, refugees who do choose to go home often face harrassment by neighbors who were on the winning side in the civil war. The report says the government appears unwilling to safeguard their rights or to prosecute those who abuse returnees.

Human Rights Watch calls on the United Nations "to actively monitor the human rights situation of returnees and to cease the practice of using ration cuts to pressure refugees in Balkh province into repatriation."

It also urges the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to increase human rights monitoring in Tajikistan and maintain an office full time in the Bokhtar district in the Khatlon oblast.