U.N. rights official says Crimea’s Tatars ‘feel threatened’

A Crimean Tatar prays in the Khan Chair Mosque in Bakhchisaray, near Simferopol

A senior U.N. human rights official who has been effectively denied entry to Crimea expressed concern on Friday about the region’s ethnic minority Tatars, saying they felt threatened and were afraid for their future.

Sunni Muslims of Turkic origin and making up 12 percent of Crimea’s population of two million, Tatars say they are apprehensive about the prospect of the region leaving Ukraine and becoming part of Russia in a referendum this Sunday.

Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the number of Tatars fleeing Crimea had so far not been “massive”, adding that he had met some of them in the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“They were not complaining about direct violations against them, but they were obviously afraid,” he said in a news briefing via video link from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. “They feel threatened.”

Simonovic called the 260,000-270,000 Tatars in Crimea “special objects of our concern,” as an indigenous population that had twice in history been deported from Crimea…

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They and a lot of other people are likely feeling uneasy these days.