Since 2001, the international medical humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been constructing shelters for civilians from Chechnya in Ingushetia who have been living in makeshift substandard conditions. Most of the beneficiaries were families living in “spontaneous settlements” or kompaknikis – (primarily abandoned factories and farms), and families living in tented camps. Throughout 2001 and 2002, MSF rehabilitated Kompackinis which were threatening to crumble and built 230 accommodations. In 2002, MSF also provided 200 new tents to Chechen refugees living in Aki Yurt, Logovaz and Rassviet /MRO camps.
Following the signing of the 20 point plan of return of Chechen families to Chechnya, by Ingush, Chechen and Federal authorities, a process of pushing people out of the tented camps has been taking place. In July 2002, Znamenskoe camp in Northern Chechnya was closed. Six months later, Aki Yurt camp in Ingushetia was also closed.
Throughout the summer of 2002, Chechen people living in the tented camps in Ingushetia were constantly informed that they would return to Chechnya and that the camps would be closed. No other option was offered. Some of this came through official sources, such as the Chechen Committee for Forced Migrants visiting the camps, or through TV and radio interviews with officials; and through a newspaper called the ‘migration herald1 ’ being distributed in the camps. Various deadlines were announced by officials on the closure of the camps. Some information also spread as rumors.
The main information people received was:
- A 20 point plan (may 2002) exists for the return of the refugee population to Chechnya
- Camps will be closed
- Return has already started
- Gas, water, and electricity will be cut
- Chechen refugees will receive money, housing and aid in Chechnya
- The sooner families go back the better support they will get, if they don’t go back soon they risk not getting any support
- NGOs should leave or diminish aid in Ingushetia
One of the only exceptions to this is Bart Camp, which, in between pressures from some officials, has received several visits and assurances from the President of Ingushetia that the camp would not be closed.
At the time, Chechen people expressed their fears linked to the mounting pressure to return to Chechnya: “I want to go now because if I wait until October they will kick me out by force. I don’t want to go through that, so I prefer to go now voluntarily.” In Bella camp some people told MSF about families who had already left: “They left, and nobody pushed them on a truck. But they know we’ll be kicked out, this way they can prepare for the winter, and won’t have to be kicked out in October from Ingushetia’”.
Other forms of pressure were also used, such as threats, intimidation and cutting of electricity and gas. Chechen families who carried out peaceful protests were accused of being manipulated by Chechen separatists. In the same period insecurity also increased in Ingushetia.
By December 2002, Aki Yurt was the first camp in Ingushetia to be closed, amid protests from the International Community and human rights organisations who did not consider it to be a voluntary return to Chechnya.
In the end of December 2002, with the increased pressures on Chechens to leave Ingushetia, and the closure of Aki Yurt, MSF accelerated its shelter programme in order to offer alternative accommodation for vulnerable families in the tent camps who did not want to return to Chechnya. 180 single-room shelters were constructed, and more than 1200 more were planned for construction with the financial support of ECHO and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affaires. In total, approximately 3,000 alternative shelters were to be provided by humanitarian organisations working on providing shelter in Ingushetia.
However, since the end of January 2003, all provision of alternative shelter in Ingushetia has been blocked by the government of Ingushetia. The 180 shelters that were already completed by MSF now stand empty, as they have been declared illegal and families have not been allowed to move in. The 28th of January 2003, the Ingush government passed a directive whereby all construction had to comply with permanent construction regulations. The rooms built between December and January by MSF were then retroactively considered illegal and were ordered to be destroyed. The additional 1200 rooms planned for construction were stalled.
Despite repeated discussions between Russian and Ingush officials, including President Zyazikov, and representatives of MSF, the United Nations (UN), ECHO, and the European Commission, as well as several Ambassadors, there has been no resolution to the problem.
Need for a Vulnerability Survey
The objective of the following MSF survey was to identify the families in the tented camps who were in need of alternative shelter in Ingushetia and to select the most vulnerable families who could first benefit from the MSF shelter programme.
The survey was carried out in 8 tent camps, targeting all the Chechen refugees living in tent camps in Ingushetia. These consisted of the 5 ‘official’ camps (Alina, Bella, Satzita, Sputnik in Slepstovskaya and Bart in Karabulak) and 3 ‘unofficial’ camps (Logovaz in Nazran, Rassviet/MRO in Slepstovskaya, and Uchkhoz in Yandare). These camps cover the vast majority of Chechen living in tents in Ingushetia.
The survey was carried out by 25 MSF monitors, between the 3rd and 16th of February 2003. (Families who were absent during this period, however, were followed up with through mid March). One semi-structured questionnaire was carried out per family, totalling 3.209 questionnaires. Another 39 families were absent during repeated visits and have not been included in the survey. 211 families interviewed in the Kompaknikis or Spontaneous settlements have not been included in these results.
As most refugees living in Ingushetia live in precarious conditions, selecting which families were more vulnerable than others was extremely difficult. The main criteria used to determine vulnerability was whether a family did not want to go back to Chechnya but had no alternative shelter in Ingushetia. Families living in spontaneous settlements (or Kompaknikis) were not included in this survey even though many live in worse condition then families in tented camps, as for the moment they have not been the main target for forced return.
Following this, other criteria were applied - those families with children under 5 years old, families with pregnant women, families with elderly (75 years old and above), families with disabled members, and families under particularly special circumstances which would be verified on a case by case basis (for example those families who had already lost their tents and were in immediate need of shelter).
The condition of a family’s tent (ie. leaks, insulation against the cold, proper flooring) was also taken into account as well as any other special observations made by the monitors