Russian Federation

Chechen displaced remain under pressure

With no income and no possessions left to sell, many displaced cannot afford to register. As a result, they are not entitled to governmental assistance. Moreover, unregistered displaced people are easily seen as terrorists.

The Russian government is keen to make the problem of displaced Chechens disappear. In spite of continuing warfare in the Chechen republic, Moscow has announced that the estimated 200,000 displaced are to return home before winter. All tent camps are to be dismantled and temporary accommodation centres forreturnees were opened on the outskirts of Grozny.

The authorities state publicly that any return is voluntarily, but in practice they deny Chechens of any choice other than to return home. In Ingushetia, the neighbouring republic that has taken the vast majority of displaced, complicated systems of registration and re-registration drive a rapidly increasing number of people into obscurity.

Day by day, life becomes more unbearable for the displaced. Facilities continue to deteriorate. New administration procedures are implemented. Steady efforts to make life difficult, if not impossible, are constant. It leaves the Chechen displaced with only two options: live in the twilight zone of unregistered IDPs with no claim to governmental assistance, or go back to an extremely insecure and devastated Chechnya.

Aki-Yurt Camp

Not long ago there were three medical organisations working in Aki-Yurt, a tent camp that houses an estimated 1,600 displaced Chechens just across the border in Ingushetia. Now Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is the only one providing medical care in the camp. Another organization provides care in the nearby village.

The water bladder, installed to provide a safe drinking supply, was removed from the camp in the second week of July due to lack of maintenance. Two weeks ago, the displaced were registered anew by Emercom, the Russian ministry for emergencies. When the displaced asked why, they were told it was in preparation for their return to Chechnya.

In many ways, the pressure on displaced Chechens to return home is increasing. Some of that pressure seems deliberate. There was a clear pattern in the Znamenskoye camps, just inside Chechnya, in the first weeks of July. See the MSF press release of July 9, 2002: MSF condemns relocation of displaced Chechens

Families who had found a refuge in the camps were told that basic facilities - gas, water, electricity - would be cut. Tents and latrines were flattened. The displaced learned that there were temporary accommodation centres on the outskirt of Grozny and that they had better go there now before there is no room left. And so they went.

Fewer and fewer displaced are registered

Meanwhile, in Ingushetia, the Chechens face round after and round of registration. Some registrations are done by humanitarian organizations in preparation for delivering aid. But it is particularly the government registrations that are disconcerting. With each round, the official number of displaced goes down. If you happen to be away from home you will not get a second chance. You are also disqualified from future registration rounds.

Another level of exclusion is having the displaced bear some of the costs involved - an immediate restriction for a population that has no income source and little left to sell.

Everyone in the northern region of the republic has to go to Malgobek City at their own expense. Once there, they have their picture taken at a costof 40 roubles. Then they register - another 40 roubles. Often they are toldto come back the next day or the next week.

While the pressure on Chechens to return home increases and the authorities state that all tent camp have to be dismantled before winter, many of the displaced are being driven into invisibility.

With no income and no possessions left to sell, many displaced cannot afford to register. As a result, they are not entitled to government assistance any longer. Moreover, unregistered displaced people are easily seen as terrorists.

While the pressure on Chechens to return home increases and the authorities state that all tent camp have to be dismantled before winter, many of the displaced are being driven into invisibility. The temporary accommodation centres in Grozny are already overcrowded. There is no sewage, hardly any water and, with the scorching heat of the Caucasus summer, the risk of disease is extreme.

Grozny is not a safe place, as is the case for large parts of Chechnya. War continues between the Russian army and rebels. The authorities have stated that any return to Chechnya will be voluntary. It seems, however, that many of the displaced are given hardly any choice but to relocate.

The MSF teams in Ingushetia will continue to work to assist the displaced.

Erwin van 't Landt is an MSF communications officer who visited Ingushetia in July to review the situation of the displaced population.