Letter to Danish Foreign Minister on the repatriation of Chechen IDPs in Ingushetia

On June 10, 2002, this letter was sent to Mr Per Stig Mølle, the Danish Foreign Minister, by the Danish office of MSF in an effort to maintain advocacy efforts regarding Chechnya. Re: Repatriation of Chechen IDPs from Ingusetia Dear Per Stig Møller As a consequence of the latest outbreak of conflict in Chechnya since 1999, some 180,000 Chechens have sought refuge in the neighbouring territories of Ingusetia and Dagestan. This population is scattered over these territories in tented camps, in 'collective centres' (usually disused industrial buildings) and in private accomodation. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been providing assistance to these people since 1999, and through our contacts with these people are aware that many wish to return to Chechnya, but for the moment do not consider it safe enough to do so. Their viewpoint is supported by continuous reports of indiscriminate violence and human rights violations taking place in Chechnya. On Tuesday (June 4), plans for the repatriation of the Chechen refugees from Ingushetia to their homeland was revealed at a meeting of the UN office for the coordinationation of humanitarian affairs (OCHA). The Chechen government head of state committee on IDPs described the return program at the meeting, a plan agreed by both the Chechen and the newly-elected Ingush government. Repatriation from the IDP camps in Znamenskoye, in northern Chechnya, has already started, with 300 people relocated in the past two weeks. Their tented accomodation and infrastructure in the camps has already been removed. MSF is concerned that this repatriation will not be a voluntary return on behalf of the Chechen IDPs, whose flight from and within Chechnya was originally provoked by the ongoing conflict. For example, the recent positioning of military forces in the direct vicinity of the camps (e.g. the newly installed military post of Troitskaya about five km from the Sputnik and Alina tented camps in Sleptovskaya, eastern Ingusetia) has coincided with an increased number of arrests of IDPs, as well as strong rumours of the 'disappearance' of others from these camps. We are concerned that military operations in this area might be putting pressure on the population in the camps to return. In addition, there are plans to close the tented camps completely, without provisions for an alternative relocation for those who do not wish to return. MSF is also extremely concerned that this repatriation is taking place to a territory which is still effectively in a state of civil war. International humanitarian agencies have had virtually no access to Chechnya during the last year, which means that reliable information about conditions on the ground is not available. Given the repeated reports of human rights abuses in Chechnya, a proper independant monitoring and follow up of a voluntary repatriation process would be essential. Furthermore, even for those who do wish to return voluntarily, the provisions in Grozny for the IDPs who have lost their homes are currently too few and of inadequate quality. Denmark takes over the EU Presidency in a few weeks time. As the Danish Foreign Minister you will also be representing the combined foreign policy of the European Union. I therefore urge you, as the representative of both the Danish government and EU, to take all steps in your power to ensure that any repatriation of IDPs to Chechnya is carried out voluntarily, without any form of coercion, and that this is followed closely by independant international monitors. I also request the opportunity to have a meeting with you on this issue at the earliest convenient date. Yours sincerely Philip Clarke Director Médecins Sans Frontières - Denmark