The Russian and Ingush authorities are making what they apparently hope will be the final push in driving Chechen refugees out of their tent camps in Ingushetia. The sole remaining camp, Satsita, is due to be closed on June 10, according to the Federal Migration Service. The deputy head of that agency, Igor Yunash, told the Interfax news agency on May 27 that “there’s no point in keeping the camp.” The recent upsurge of violence in Chechnya has apparently had no effect on the authorities’ refugee policies.
Yunash said that as of May 27 the camp was still accommodating 960 people; estimates by independent observers are higher. A May 29 report by Ruslan Isayev of Prague Watchdog stated that Satsita contained about 1,200 refugees who had moved there from just one other refugee camp—Bella, which was forcibly closed last autumn.
The Federal Migration Service official repeated the oft-heard claim from the authorities that the return of refugees to Chechnya is “purely voluntary,” but that claim continued to be disputed by the refugees themselves and by human-rights advocates. Adlan Daudov, head of the Public Council of Refugees, told Prague Watchdog “we have no place to go. There is no safety in Chechnya, not with houses being demolished there.” “And the places they offered to move us into in Ingushetia lack even the basic amenities that we have in our tents,” Daudov said.
Russian human-rights activist Vladimir Shaklein said he had received “dozens of petitions from Satsita asking that we protect the people from the threats of the authorities.” “They’ve been told that if they refuse to leave, their names will be removed from the restitution lists and they won’t get any compensation for loss of property sustained during the war,” Shaklein said. “And there have also been threats that the electricity and gas will be shut off in the camp….Parents are especially fearful of taking their teenage sons back to Chechnya. They could be accused of aiding the rebels and be arrested.”
Dudaev said that refugees who agree to return to Chechnya have been offered small modular houses there, but that these structures “are made of cheap material and will not last long; after a rainy autumn they’ll collapse.”