Last week we examined the situation of approximately 170,000 refugees from Chechnya who are now preparing for winter in the small republic of Ingushetiya, adjacent to war-torn Chechnya. It will be recalled that influential Russian political and military leaders have advocated that all of those refugees, or at least a great many of them, should be returned to Chechnya.
A point which needs to be stressed up front is that it remains exceptionally dangerous for anyone to move about the republic of Chechnya. As the Lam Center for Pluralism (based in Nazran, Ingushetiya and in Djohar, Chechnya) noted in a statement of 15 October (issued jointly with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe): “The Russian military authorities continue to bomb civilian villages and illegally and arbitrarily to detain innocent people. The so-called cleansing operations of Chechen villages amount to nothing more than extortion and pillaging by the Russian forces.” The Chechen separatist fighters are likewise faulted for continuing actively to lay mines to kill Russian military personnel. One result of this practice is that, “Every day land mines claim the lives of more innocent civilians, including women and children.”
Two Danish humanitarian organizations, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), and an allied organization, Danish People’s Aid (ASF), have done yeoman work in seeking to determine the actual number of refugees within Chechnya and also to calculate the total population of the war-torn republic. In DRC/ASF report no. 28 (October 10), it was reported that, as of October 5, 733,889 persons had been registered at twelve registration points located within the republic. This registration process was carried out in fourteen of the eighteen districts of the republic (the other four being the scene of continuing military clashes). It was estimated that three percent of the populace chose to avoid the registration process. (In order to be registered, one had to present a passport, birth certificate or similar document, or, in the absence of such documentation, to be identified by the local administration or by several neighbors.)