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UNHCR 'shocked' by Kyrgyz handover

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

(CNN) -- The forcible return of four Uzbek men who sought asylum in Kyrgyzstan after last month's violence in eastern Uzbekistan prompted the U.N. refugee agency to make an urgent appeal for a halt to any more deportations.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it was "shocked" by the sudden decision by Kyrgyz officials to hand the four men over the Uzbek government, charging it was a violation of Kyrgyz law and an international treaty since the four were not given a hearing to determine if they qualified for refugee status.

The Uzbek government maintained the men were common criminals, not refugees fleeing persecution for their political or religious beliefs.

Hundreds of Uzbek citizens fled across the border into Kyrgyzstan after the May 13 violence in which hundreds of people were killed following a protest in the city of Andijan.

The UNHCR said the forcible return of the refugees to Uzbekistan "was a direct violation of an agreement it had reached with the Kyrgyz government that no one would be forcibly returned unless they had been determined not to be a refugee after going through an asylum procedure."

"The four, who are presumably now in the custody of the Uzbek authorities, are Dilshod Hadjiev, Tavakal Hadjiev, Abdubais (Hasan) Shakirov and Muhammad Kadyrov," the UNHCR statement said.

The UNHCR said it "welcomed a strong statement Friday morning by the Kyrgyz Acting First Vice Prime Minister Felix Kulov condemning Thursday's deportations."

The refugee agency said Kulov promised also an investigation and that "any state security officials who had acted improperly or illegally would be brought to justice."

The four men were part of a group of 16 asylum seekers removed by security forces from Sasyk camp -- where 470 Uzbek refugees are located -- to the town of Jalalabad, around 15 miles from the Uzbek border Thursday, the UNHCR said.

The other 12 men remained in the Jalalabad detention center and appeared to be shocked but otherwise in good health, the agency said.

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