The special representative of President Putin for human rights in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, recently noted that conditions for forced migrants living in the Chechen Republic have gotten “still worse.” Not only is hot food no longer being provided for the refugees, but they now “simply have no bread [to eat].” “People are strained to the limit,” Kalamanov observed. There is an urgent need to begin supplying basic foodstuffs to the refugee camps located in Chechnya (Russian agencies, December 22).
The chairman of the parliament of Ingushetia, Ruslan Pliev, has warned that a situation “bordering on a humanitarian catastrophe” threatens the 27,513 Chechen refugees currently living in tent camps–twenty persons to a tent–located in that republic. The refugees have not been given a hot meal for three weeks. They also lack proper sanitary facilities and are being threatened by spreading disease, with about 500 cases of tuberculosis having been reported. Local hospitals are reported to be full of refugees suffering from hepatitis and respiratory illnesses (Agence France Presse, December 21, January 1).
Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who writes for the weekly Novaya gazeta, recently visited the Ninth City Hospital in Djohar, “the only hospital [in the city] continuing to accept wounded city dwellers.” Only a handful of doctors remain, and they must work under onerous conditions, including being harassed by the Russian military and MVD. Over the past five months, the medical staff has received only one month’s wages. Medicines (including anesthesia) sent to the hospital by the Russian Ministry of Health never reach their destination. They “become an object of private enterprise” and must then be purchased at a steep price by patients and their families.
While a number of official Russian spokesmen have asserted that it is now safe for Chechen forced migrants taking refuge in Ingushetia to return to Chechnya, Politkovskaya recounts the story of one woman, named Asya, who attempted to do so. “Asya and her family were returning from a refugee camp in Ingushetia… Asya was walking in front, her children a little behind, and therefore she took the full blast of the mine upon herself…. She lost half of her left leg and the heel of her right foot.” “My husband took the children back to Ingushetia,” Asya remarked. “They are sitting there in tents; they don’t go to school; they are hungry and cold, but they are alive” (Novaya gazeta, no. 73, December 21-24).