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Uzbek & Kyrgyz Govts Urged To Keep Border Open

UN Refugee Agency Call On Uzbek And Kyrgyz Governments To Keep Border Open

After a weekend of deadly violence and with ongoing tension in the Uzbek city of Andijan and the region around it, the United Nations refugee agency today called on the Governments of both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to leave open their common boarder to panicked civilians fleeing for safety.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said an agency emergency team to support its staff already on the ground was also on the way to the region, and aid supplies from its warehouse in the nearby regional centre of Osh have been sent to the border area and were being distributed.

Additional supplies, including tents, were being sent by road from UNHCR stockpiles in Tajikistan, Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva.

In Jalal-Abad, some 50 kilometres north of Andijan, a group of some 550 Uzbeks arrived on Saturday, the majority of them men, with 84 women and 12 children among them. They told UNHCR that they were in Andijan on Friday and fled when the army opened fire on the demonstrators.

“[Some] 541 of them are now accommodated in a military camp erected in a narrow valley on the Kyrgyz bank of the Kara-Darya river, near the town of Jalal-Abad in the district of Suzac,” Ms. Pagonis said, adding that UNHCR has negotiated for a non-governmental organization (NGO) called ACTED to purchase and deliver food to the group. The newcomers have been registered as asylum seekers by the Kyrgyz Department of Migration Service and issued temporary cards by the Kyrgyz authorities valid for a period of 10 days.

Ms. Pagonis said the asylum seekers told UNHCR that they had been out in Andijan on Friday afternoon when the army opened fire. “They said that panic spread through the city, and many people tried to escape, but that the streets were cordoned off by the military. They said they walked for 10 hours to reach the border, where they were helped by local villagers who led them across to safety in Kyrgyzstan,” she added.

UNHCR has rushed emergency relief supplies, including clothes, blankets, jerry cans and soap from its warehouse in the nearby Kyrgyz city of Osh, to the new camp. UNHCR is also sending 150 tents by truck from its warehouse in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The refugee agency said it was concerned about the proximity of the camp to the border and would like to relocate the group in order to better ensure their safety, as is common practice in every refugee situation.

“UNHCR welcomes the Kyrgyz Government's assurances that people will not be forcibly returned to Uzbekistan and its moves to register the newcomers as asylum-seekers” in keeping with Kyrgyzstan's traditional support for international protection and UNHCR's work, said Ms. Pagonis.

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