Orders for destruction of shelters for Chechen refugees is another obstruction of refugee rights

Paris - The Ingush authorities have given Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) until March 26 2003 to destroy 180 shelters constructed by the organisation for the most vulnerable Chechen refugees. This order represents an additional obstruction preventing humanitarian organisations from aiding a population increasingly threatened by forced repatriation.

These rooms, constructed with plywood, are posed on concrete slabs and equipped with a gas stove and an electrical outlet. Showers and toilets were constructed outside. In addition to the 180 rooms already built, 1,020 others are currently under construction or are planned to be built by the end of 2003 by the ensemble of MSF sections operating in the Ingushetia.

The work in progress was interrupted by this interdiction. However, MSF had received verbal guarantees from the Ingush president, as well as all the necessary written authorisations for this shelter project of 1 million Euros, of which over 70% is financed by the European Union. Claiming all of a sudden that these constructions do not conform to urban building codes, the local judicial and administrative authorities have imposed a new obstacle to humanitarian agencies in the region.

These shelters are destined for families who live in deplorable conditions in Ingushetia, but do not want to return to Chechnya.

At the end of January, MSF met with all the families living in the tented camps in Ingushetia to determine their needs in terms of lodging. Of 3,191 families (16,426 individuals), 98% did not want to return to Chechnya and 92% gave insecurity as the main reason for this reluctance. Refugees risk their lives by returning to Chechnya where a violent campaign of repression by the Russian Federal forces is still being undertaken.

Yet the pressures to return have been increased since spring 2002, especially for the people living in the tented camps: military detachments near the camps and the deletion of names from lists of beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance compound military closures of certain camps. The camp Aki Yurt was emptied in such a manner in December 2002. The insecurity extends to aid workers, who are exposed to all kinds of aggression in the region.

Arjan Erkel, the MSF head of mission in neighbouring Dagestan, was kidnapped in Makhaskhala on August 12 last year, and we have had no news of him since. It is the responsibility of the Russian authorities to demonstrate a genuine will to obtain the immediate liberation of Arjan and to end this climate of terror and impunity.

MSF is thus demanding that the local and federal Russian authorities provide humanitarian organisations with the guarantees necessary to provide refugees with proper assistance, as well as assurances that these same refugees will not be in any manner forced to return.

MSF also urges United Nations agencies and the donor community to concretely defend the right to refuge for Chechen populations. MSF has been present in North Caucasus since 1999 to provide assistance to civilians in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.