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Reports of Refoulement in Kyrgyzstan Amidst Fears of Shrinking Asylum Space 

A view of Bishkek's Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.1 (Source: AKIPress)
A view of Bishkek’s Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.1 (Source: AKIPress)

In December, UNHCR expressed “grave concern” at the disappearance of an asylum seeker in Kyrgyzstan and his refoulement to his country of origin. Similar incidents have been reported in recent years, with rights observers also decrying the country’s shrinking asylum space. 

According to UNHCR, on 16/17 October an asylum seeker was arrested by security services from his accommodation and reports indicated that he had been returned to his country of origin. Commenting on the case, UNHCR stated: 

“The forced return of a person in need of international protection to a country where they may face serious harm constitutes a violation of the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to which the Kyrgyz Republic is a signatory, as well as its national legislation on refugees. The principle of non-refoulement is the cornerstone of refugee protection enabling individuals forced to flee to find safety.” 

While the nationality of the asylum seeker was not publicised, previous disappearances have often involved Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers. In 2013, Human Rights Watch highlighted the case of Shukhrat Musin, a recognised refugee from Uzbekistan who fled to Kyrgyzstan to escape religious persecution. According to the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Musin was later found to have been deported and imprisoned in Andijan, Uzbekistan. 

More recently, since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, media outlets have reported cases of Russian dissidents being arrested, detained, and deported from the country. Large numbers of Russians have sought refuge in Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan in a bid to escape being drafted into the war. Political activists opposed to the war have also sought asylum in the country. In 2023, however, there were growing numbers of reports of Russian dissidents being detained by Kyrgyz security forces–amongst them asylum seekers. In June 2023, Radio Free Europe reported that three Russians had been detained in Bishkek. Similarly, in March 2023 UNHCR highlighted the case of a Belarusian asylum seeker who was detained and handed over to Minsk authorities while their refugee status determination procedure was still pending. 

In the past, UN human rights mechanisms have challenged the country over reports of refoulement. In 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee noted such concerns and recommended that authorities “strictly enforce the absolute prohibition of refoulement under articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant.” 

Decreased Refugee Recognition

The disappearance of asylum seekers has taken place against what UNHCR has described as a “shrinking asylum space.” While the country has acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and has passed its own refugee law (the 2002 Refugee Law), the number of successful asylum applications each year has been steadily decreasing. According to UNHCR statistics, during the three-year period 2021-2023, of the country’s 864 asylum decisions only 10 applicants received recognition. According to the US State Department, “the government has ignored asylum requests from asylum seekers likely to be tortured upon their return to their home country.” 

According to a voluntary review of the country’s implementation of the Global Compact for Migration, Kyrgyzstan does not operate dedicated immigration detention facilities. Instead, foreigners have been detained in pre-trial detention centres, such as the Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.1 in Bishkek

Central Asia Kyrgyzstan Refoulement