UN refugee agency concerned at disappearance in Kazakhstan, deportations in Thailand

(un.org) - The United Nations refugee agency today expressed deep concern over the fate of a Chinese Uighur asylum seeker in Kazakhstan who it fears might have been deported, as well as Thailand's deportation to Laos of 53 ethnic Hmong, including a newborn baby, reports Trend.

The Uighur asylum seeker disappeared in the Kazakh city of Almaty on 23 October after he was released conditionally when a court dismissed all criminal charges that led to his detention in June.

"UNHCR immediately requested the government to investigate the circumstances of his disappearance and was assured by the Foreign Minister that the government would thoroughly look into the matter," agency spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

"UNHCR, however, fears that the asylum seeker might have been deported. We therefore call on the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan to expedite the investigation related to the disappearance," he added.

After his detention, the asylum seeker's wife had immediately filed an application with UNHCR seeking refugee status for her husband and protection against deportation.

In the case of the Hmong, the agency said the forced return was tantamount to refoulement. The principle of "non-refoulement" stipulates that no refugees or asylum seekers whose cases have not yet been properly assessed can be forcibly returned to a country where their life or liberty could be in danger.

"Every government has the right to deport irregular migrants, but UNHCR is seriously concerned that there may have been within this group genuine refugees who were in need of international protection and could face persecution in Laos," the agency's acting representative in Thailand, Giuseppe de Vincentis, said.

"We have no access to these people once they are returned to Laos, and there have been no guarantees that they will be properly treated on their return to Laos," he added.

UNHCR has made several representations to the Thai Government not to deport Lao Hmong and has renewed its offer to help the Government find viable solutions for the roughly 6,000 Hmong living in makeshift camps.

On a more positive note, UNHCR has welcomed Croatia's first grant of asylum since the country's independence 15 years ago. The recognition of the asylum claim by a 27-year-old woman from a country in eastern Africa was based on religious grounds and the fact that she could have been subjected to genital mutilation if returned home. Her identity has not been revealed to protect her privacy.

"With the first-ever recognition of a refugee, Croatia has made an important step towards a fully functioning asylum system, in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention and European standards and practices," UNHCR country representative Jean-Claude Concolato said.

According to official statistics, there were 186 asylum applications in Croatia last year, the majority lodged by nationals of Bangladesh, Serbia and Montenegro, India, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Moldova.

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