Russia: Fears for Uzbek refugee who has disappeared in Rostov on the Don
On 5 February it was learned that Uzbekistan national Dilshod Kurbanov, who had previously been granted temporary asylum in the Russian Federation and whose extradition has been halted by the European Court of Human Rights, disappeared after arriving in the Russian city of Rostov on the Don.
Kurbanov was living in the Republic of Mordovia (part of the RF) together with his wife, a Russian national. Since he couldn’t work in Mordovia, on 24 January this year he set off for Moscow, planning to travel on to Rostov on the Don where he hoped to find work. He arrived at his final destination on the morning of 27 January, but since then there has been no contact with him. On 6 February 2010 his disappearance was reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] in Mordovia.
Kurbanov’s history up till now gives grounds for serious concern as to his fate. On 29 May 2007, Dilshod Kurbanov who left Uzbekistan back in 2003 and has since then not left the Russian Federation, turned to the UNHCR in Russia applying for international protection since he had been persecuted for his religious convictions in Uzbekistan. Having been invited for an interview on 11 June, Dilshod returned to the Tula region where he was living at the time. They advised him in the UNHCR to also apply for asylum to the Russian authorities, but he did not have time.
The next day, 30 May, he was detained because the Uzbek law enforcement bodies had placed him on the international wanted list on politically motivated charges of a religious nature which are traditionally used in Uzbekistan in relation to Muslims closely observing prescribed religious rites. While already remanded in custody, Dilshod sent an application for refugee status in the RF to the Federal Migration Service Office in the Tula region. However on 26 December that year, without waiting for a conclusion to that procedure, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued an order for his extradition. Following the rejection by the Tula Regional Court of his appeal against this order, and in view of the serious danger of his being subjected to torture in Uzbekistan, Kurbanov’s lawyers applied to the European Court of Human Rights to apply Rule 39, halting the extradition which the Court in Strasbourg did. It should be noted that when Dilshod was already in custody, UNHCR found his circumstances in line with the criteria for the concept of “refugee” and that he was in need of international protection. It thus informed the FMS of its support for his application for asylum and enclosed information about the applicant’s country of origin.
On 28 May 2008 the RF Supreme Court issued a cassation judgment stopping the extradition proceedings on the grounds that according to Russian legislation the time frame for prosecution had elapsed, and ordering his release from custody.
The events following his release have on many occasions aroused concern for his safety. He was subjected to a long interrogation by police officers together with a person from the FSB [Federal Security Service], had his photograph and fingerprints taken. Simply registering with the migration office in Mordovia following a year spent in custody required the intervention of human rights activists. Each extension of his registration required similar approaches by human rights activists to the Federal Migration Service up until March 2009 when Kurbanov received a formal document granting him temporary asylum in the Russian Federation on the grounds of the serious risk of torture if he returned to his home country.
Over the year and a half that he lived in Mordovia, Kurbanov periodically received information, from people in Mordovia and from Uzbekistan, that the Uzbek law enforcement and security service bodies had not lost interest in him and that their Russian colleagues were seeking to help them in this. Serious grounds for concern made human rights activists recommend that he take special precautions and not remain alone at all.
It should be noted in this respect that there have been a number of occasions where Uzbek refugees, persecuted on religious grounds, have been abducted from Russian territory and illegally taken to Uzbekistan where they were subjected to torture and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Since in all known cases the people have been flown to Uzbekistan from Russian airports, it is clear that this could not have been done without the direct involvement of the Russian security service.
Back in October 2008, with the help of UNHCR a third country agreed to give Kurbanov asylum. However for around 2 and a half years, neither he nor the many other Uzbek refugees who have been granted asylum in third countries, have been able to make use of it.
The problem is that in Uzbekistan up till now there is a permission-based procedure for going to countries with visa requirements. This permit is in the form of a sticker in the passport and needs to be received in Uzbekistan according to where a person is registered or in the Uzbekistan embassy in Moscow. The Russian authorities, in contravention of the ban established in international law on forcing refugees to approach the authorities of their country of origin, demand that these “stickers” for travel to a third country be in the passports of people who, like Kurbanov, have received temporary asylum due to the threat of torture in Uzbekistan. This means that dozens of people are unable to leave to take up offers of asylum.
At the present time the UNHCR and human rights groups are making all efforts to find out what has happened to Dilshod Kurbanov. If it transpires that he has become the latest victim of abduction and has been returned to Uzbekistan, this will not only be a tragic turn for him, but will be a flagrant violation by the Russian Federation of the ban placed by the European Court of Human Rights on his forced return to Uzbekistan.
From a report by Yelena Ryabinina, Head of the Right to Refuge Programme