On November 27, Russian authorities announced that they intended, by the end of December, to close the “tent cities” located in Ingushetia that now house tens of thousands of Chechen IDPs. (Reuters, November 27). On the same day, Poul Nielson, head of the European Commission’s relief effort in Chechnya and Ingushetia, affirmed: “I am very concerned by the recent announcement of the Ingush Federal Migration Service of their intention to close the Aki Yurt [IDP] camp on the 1st of December. This camp currently hosts more than 1,700 IDPs from Chechnya who have fled the war and refuse to return there as long as their lives are at risk. That it is not known where these people will go if the camp closes is disturbing.” Nielson stressed that the views of his commission must be taken into account by the Russian government: “Let me recall that the European Commission, through its Humanitarian Aid Office ECHO, is the main donor of humanitarian aid to the victims of the Chechnya conflict (90 million euros since 1999)” (Reliefweb.int, November 27).
On November 29, Reuters reported that an official of the U.S. State Department, who asked not to be named, had informed the news service that Russia had assured the United States that it would not force displaced Chechens to return to Chechnya against their will. “The Russian government assured us on [November 27] that internally displaced Chechens would be offered ‘purely voluntary’ choices,” the official stated (Reuters, November 29). The same day, however, journalist Anna Badkhen of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Human Rights Watch charged that the refugees had been given the choice of returning to Chechnya or moving into abandoned and crumbling factories in Ingushetia that have no facilities whatever” (San Francisco Chronicle, November 29).