Uzbekistan not keen to admit Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban

On Sunday, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry reported that 84 Afghan servicemen crossed into Uzbekistan on Saturday and asked for assistance. (File/AP)
Short Url
Updated 18 August 2021

Uzbekistan not keen to admit Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban

  • Thousands of Afghans have been looking for ways to escape
  • Experts note that Uzbek authorities have long maintained a tightly closed border with Afghanistan

TERMEZ: When Sami Elbigi heard about the Taliban’s advance toward Mazar-e-Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan that has been the main hub of anti-Taliban resistance, he knew it was time to run.

He took his phones, a suit and some clothing and kissed his mother goodbye. A thought crossed his mind that might be the last time he will ever see her.

Elbigi, 30, left his Afghan hometown of Hairatan and rushed to the Uzbek border. He still had a valid business visa due to his profitable cross-border oil company, so entering Uzbekistan wasn’t a problem. But he was one of the lucky few who managed to find refuge in the ex-Soviet republic in recent days — those without visas have not been allowed in.

“The Taliban takeover happened so fast, we have not expected that. I still cannot believe it,” Elbigi told The Associated Press, sitting in a cafe in Termez, an Uzbek city close to the Afghan border, with numb disbelief on his face.

“My visa expires in one month, and I don’t know what I will do next. I have no plan. I left everything behind,” he said.

As the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in a swift power grab, thousands of Afghans have been looking for ways to escape what they see as a return of a ruthless fundamentalist rule. But neighboring Uzbekistan appears wary about a flood of Afghan refugees.

Afghan citizens who applied for Uzbek visas in recent months told The Associated Press that Uzbekistan has been refusing visas to Afghans, citing coronavirus concerns.

Experts note that Uzbek authorities have long maintained a tightly closed border with Afghanistan, fearing an influx of extremists, and have only accepted a handful of asylum-seekers from its unstable neighbor.

Since the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, “the Uzbek government has continually refused to sign and ratify the Refugee Convention — one of the most widely observed treaties in the world — which would require it to provide some type of processing and protection to those seeking asylum out of fear of persecution,” said Steve Swerdlow, a human rights lawyer and associate professor of human rights at the University of Southern California.

The Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan in recent months made several Central Asian nations nervous, prompting authorities in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to ramp up border security. Afghanistan borders Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and a tiny strip along China’s Xinjiang region.

Last week, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia finished joint military drills in the Tajik region of Khatlon, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Afghan border. On Tuesday, the Russian military started another exercise in Tajikistan. China and Russia held joint military exercises last week in northwest China.

But the slow vibe of the southern Uzbek city of Termez bears few traces of the unfolding crisis across the border. A few Afghans in traditional two-piece garments walk down the streets but city life continues undisturbed.

Termez, a largely Persian-speaking city, has long been a town of choice for many Afghans moving to Uzbekistan.

Together with the UN Development Program, the Uzbek government in 2019 opened the Termez Center for Education in Afghanistan, a place where Afghan girls facing hurdles in education could continue their studies. Men from northern Afghanistan have also set up businesses in the city.

For the past three years, Fayzad Hasanzoda, 20, and his brother successfully ran a restaurant in Termez. They said they invested $1 million in the venture, which makes their stay in Uzbekistan secure. But despite their high social status in Uzbekistan, they were unable to help their family escape from Afghanistan.

“I applied for a visa for my parents, my brother and sister two months ago. Normally it takes a week to receive it, but we still haven’t gotten any response,” Hasanzoda told the AP. “We want them to join us in Uzbekistan, but it’s not easy.”

Since the fighting in northern Afghanistan intensified, there are regular reports about Afghan soldiers fleeing across the highly guarded border but they are routinely sent back.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry reported that 84 Afghan servicemen crossed into Uzbekistan on Saturday and asked for assistance. The ministry said it was in touch with Afghan officials regarding their return.

There are exceptions, however. On Aug. 14, Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan army commander, former northern warlord and vice president, crossed into Uzbekistan with a group of followers, which marked his surrender in the fight with the Taliban for control of Afghanistan’s northern districts. His current whereabouts are unclear, but the commander, an ethnic Uzbek, has a house in Termez and has maintained close ties with the Uzbek government.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry’s news agency, Dunyo, said on Tuesday that media reports about “the alleged presence” of Dostum, as well as another former warlord, Ata Mohammad Noor, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Uzbekistan were, “according to official information, not true.”

On Sunday, an Afghan military plane crashed in Uzbekistan. Two pilots aboard survived and were hospitalized. Official Uzbek reports emerged Monday then were retracted about hundreds of Afghan military troops reaching

Uzbekistan in dozens of aircraft that were forced to land in Termez. The AP could not independently verify those reports.

The “Friendship Bridge” at the Uzbek-Afghan border remains eerily quiet. Local residents say that not even Afghans who live in Uzbekistan are allowed back in these days.

How many Afghan refugees have been taken in by Uzbekistan remains unclear. On Monday, the country’s Prosecutor General’s office said 158 Afghan civilians and soldiers tried to illegally enter Uzbekistan across a river. In the same statement, officials alleged that 22 Afghan warplanes and 24 military helicopters with 585 Afghan troops illegally entered Uzbekistan’s airspace and were forced to land at Termez.

Shortly after, the Prosecutor General’s office withdrew the statement, claiming it wasn’t based on “verified data from relevant authorities.”

On Tuesday, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry warned that any attempts to violate the border would be “harshly suppressed.” The ministry said Uzbek authorities maintained “close contacts” with the Taliban on border issues.

A drive past the Termez Airport showed locals stopping along the road to look at numerous helicopters that were not there the day before — even though it’s impossible to tell from the distance whether they were Uzbek or Afghan military aircraft.

Swerdlow, the human rights lawyer, thinks Uzbekistan should open its borders to desperate Afghan refugees.

“This unfolding crisis — and Tashkent’s current seat on the UN Human Rights Council — underlines how important it is for the US government and other international partners to urge Uzbekistan to implement the (refugee) convention, provide proper aid, and refrain from pushing persons who fear persecution or torture back into Afghanistan,” he said.


Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Updated 57 min 37 sec ago

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

  • Capture of the town would have limited operational value
  • But it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk

Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
The capture of the town would have limited operational value but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.
“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.


UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

Updated 03 December 2022

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

  • Military-installed government using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition
  • At least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military-installed government has sentenced more critics to death, bringing the total to 139, and is using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition, the UN high commissioner for human rights said Friday.
High Commissioner Volker Turk said at least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday, and there are reports that as many as four more youth activists were sentenced on Thursday.
“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality,” Turk said in a statement. “Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees.”
The military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s action was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts have characterized as civil war.
Turk said the military-installed government has arrested nearly 16,500 people for opposing the army takeover, including about 1,700 who have been convicted in secret courts without access to lawyers.
The Students’ Union of Dagon University in Yangon, the country’s largest city, announced Thursday on its Facebook page that seven university students between the ages of 18 and 24 who were arrested on April 21 had been sentenced to death Wednesday by a military court in Yangon’s Insein Prison.
An executive member of the Dagon University Students’ Union told The Associated Press that the seven were accused of links to an urban guerrilla group opposed to military rule and convicted of murder for allegedly taking part in shooting a bank branch manager in April.
In late July, the government hanged four political activists, in the country’s first executions in at least three decades.
The hangings prompted condemnations from Western nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to defuse the crisis with a five-point plan that the military government has failed to implement.
“By resorting to use death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military,” Turk said.


US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

Updated 03 December 2022

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

MOSCOW: Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported on Friday.
“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.
“This is still a criminal investigative matter,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday, referring any questions about the report on Snowden to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
US authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies.
“I’m in Russia because the White House intentionally canceled my passport to trap me here. They downed the President of Bolivia’s diplomatic aircraft to prevent me from leaving, and continue to interfere with my freedom of movement to this day,” Snowden, 39, said on Twitter on Friday, referring to events from 2013.
Snowden was referring an incident in July 2013, when Bolivia complained that its presidential jet carrying Evo Morales from Russia to Bolivia had been rerouted and forced to land in Austria over suspicion that Snowden was on board.
Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of US spying and alleged violation of privacy. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants.


EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

Updated 02 December 2022

EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine should be withdrawn from sale
  • "Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction"

THE HAGUE: Cough medicines containing the chemical pholcodine should be banned due to the risk of potentially deadly allergic reactions in people under general anaesthetic, the European Union’s drug regulator said Friday.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine, which is used in adults and children to treat dry coughs, should be withdrawn from sale.
“Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction” to muscle relaxants in the anaesthetic, the Amsterdam-based watchdog said.
Anaphylactic shock is a “sudden, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction,” it added.
Medicines with the chemical were “being withdrawn from the EU market and will therefore no longer be available by prescription or over the counter.”
Opioid-based pholcodine has been used as a cough medicine since the 1950s.
Medicines containing the chemical are currently authorized in the EU countries of Belgium, Croatia, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia, under brand names including Dimetane, Biocalyptol and Broncalene.
France had said in September that pholcodine could be banned due to the risk of allergies.
In April 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a dry cough was one of the main symptoms of the disease, French authorities had recommended against the use of syrups with pholcodine.
The EMA in January had recommended updating packaging to warn of the risk of allergies, based on new data.


Parcels with animals’ eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

Updated 02 December 2022

Parcels with animals’ eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

  • The “bloody parcels” were received by the Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy and Czech
  • Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said that “we are studying the meaning of this message”

KYIV: Ukrainian embassies and consulates in six European countries have received packages containing animals’ eyes in recent days, a Ukrainian official said Friday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Facebook that the “bloody parcels” were received by the Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Italy, as well as by consulates in Naples, Italy; Krakow, Poland and the Czech city of Brno. He said that “we are studying the meaning of this message.”
Nikolenko said they arrived after a package containing an explosive device that was sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid ignited upon opening on Wednesday and injured an employee. That was one of multiple explosive parcels found in Spain this week.
In addition, the entrance to the residence of the Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican was vandalized and the embassy in Kazakhstan was warned of a mine attack, though that wasn’t confirmed, Nikolenko said.
All Ukrainian embassies and consulates have stepped up security measures. Nikolenko quoted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as saying that “we have reason to believe that a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukrainian embassies and consulates is taking place.”