Left without a choice

This article first appeared in the 2002-2003 MSF International Activity Report "I am afraid of the cleansing operations. I don't even want to think about the closure of the camps. I hope humanitarian organizations will help us." "I am afraid for my family in Chechnya. Our house was destroyed. I don't know what to do if the camps are closed. I will do the same as everyone else. I am afraid of the camp closure." MSF's survey shows that 98% of the Chechen population living in tents in Ingushetia do not want to return to Chechnya, mainly because they fear for their lives. Today, the situation in Chechnya continues to be insecure for civilians: 93% of families who were not planning on returning to Chechnya in the near future give insecurity as a reason. The high levels of violence and insecurity in Chechnya are well documented elsewhere: zatchiskas (cleansing operations), disappearances, murders, torture and bombings are constantly threatening civilians' lives. Chechen families refuse to go back to Chechnya even though their living conditions in the tent camps continue to be totally unacceptable, with more than half of the families interviewed living in tents that leak, do not have adequate insulation against the cold, or do not have floors (either wooden or concrete). Most importantly, people have no alternative place to stay in Ingushetia when the camps close. In spite of people's choice to stay in Ingushetia and official statements that no one will be forced back, the provision of alternative shelter by humanitarian organizations continues to be blocked. The families identified by the MSF survey are being offered no alternative. The results speak for themselves, showing the need for construction and provision of alternative shelters for at least 2,827 families (14,443 people) in all tent camps, with those in the official camps probably being in more urgent need. A key point in providing options to people is informing them that alternative shelter in Ingushetia is a possibility. The displaced Chechen families living in tent camps in Ingushetia are subject to forced return in a subtle yet extremely efficient way. As more families leave, pressure grows on the ones who have decided to stay. Families are not presented with the option to stay in Ingushetia.