Chechen refugees now constitute the largest national group seeking asylum in the European Union, according to an October 15 report in the Irish Times—far outstripping those fleeing wars in more populous places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. Most of these Chechens, wrote Irish Times correspondent Dan McLaughlin, “acquire a fake passport in their Caucasus homeland, bribe their way north through military checkpoints, cross Russia’s unguarded border with Belarus and turn up at the Polish frontier—which since May 1st marks the eastern edge of the EU.” Of the nearly 7,000 people who claimed asylum in Poland last year, some 5,345 were Chechens.
Meanwhile, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights last week began considering six cases brought by Chechen civilians accusing Russia of war crimes. In the first case, plaintiffs Magomed Khashiyev and Roza Akayeva are seeking compensation for the torture and death of relatives during federal zachistki security sweeps in the year 2000. Another case will seek damages for lives and property lost when Russia warplanes strafed refugees fleeing toward Ingushetia in 1999. The first hearing, on October 17, took more than two hours. Court officials told the Associated Press that a ruling is likely only after several months.
On October 13, the Memorial human rights center released its estimate that some 278 people have been kidnapped in Chechnya since the beginning of 2004. Of these, some 106 have been freed, Memorial spokesman Dmitri Grushin told the Interfax news agency. Another 20, he said, have been found dead, with 122 still missing.