Pressure Intensifies To Close Refugee Camps

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 4

Human rights activists are increasingly pessimistic about the chances of stopping the federal, Chechen and Ingush authorities from closing Ingushetia’s camps for Chechen refugees. In a January 26 article for Russky kurier, Timur Aliev predicted that the “war of the tents” is nearing its end, and that the authorities will win a total victory.

Aliev described the scene he had witnessed four days earlier at the “Satsita” refugee camp, which is one of only three remaining in Ingushetia. A protest meeting of about 200 refugees was listening–mostly passively–to the speeches of visiting Chechen nationalists and human rights advocates. Though the visitors’ style reminded Aliev of the Bolshevik agitators of 1917 as shown in Soviet films, he found that many of the refugees agreed with the visitors that conditions within Chechnya are still too dangerous for the refugees to want to return there. Some expressed cynicism: “If Kadyrov has decided to close this camp, then he will do it,” shrugged one woman.

In another part of the camp, representatives of the Kadyrov administration were trying to convince the refugees that they could indeed go home safely. Aliev found that Kadyrov’s people are now relying heavily on the leaders of Chechnya’s local district administrations; the latter are assigned to visit the camps, to meet with the refugees and to promise them jobs, places to live and, above all, financial compensation for their war-wrecked homes. These local bureaucrats from Chechnya drive about the camps in Ingushetia in cars equipped with loudspeakers, seeking refugees from their own areas. According to refugee sources, they work closely with the federal migration service, whose head, Igor Yunash, recently stated after a visit to the camps that “in the near future the epic of the camps will be over. We must end this period in the life of the refugees. We have agreed that we will try in the near future to solve the problem and help people return home. The problems of transportation, resettlement and compensation are being solved, and therefore in the near future we shall see the striking of the last tent in these camps.”

Some of the refugees have sent a written appeal to Kadyrov, protesting that “hundreds of displaced families have recently been removed without cause from the accounts of the migration service in Ingushetia. After returning home these people, especially their young men, will face serious dangers. At any moment they can be declared to be participants in illegal armed formations, in that they have no documents confirming that they have been living all this time in refugee camps.”

Usam Baisaev of the human rights center Memorial told Aliev that most of Chechnya’s temporary resettlement centers for refugees “are in seriously damaged condition, not fit for human habitation. They threaten the health of refugees who spend long periods living in them. As of the beginning of the cold season, all of the eight newly opened resettlement centers and a majority of those already in operation remained without heating. None of the new ones has proper facilities for drinking water…Though electrification has been supplied for all the resettlement centers, the electrical power is extremely weak. They also all have gas, but it is often turned off without warning. All of the new centers lack sewage connections as well as shower and laundry rooms.”

Another activist, Ruslan Zhadaev of the Council of Non-government Organizations, said that even when proper housing is available in Chechnya, refugees have been told that they cannot move in unless they pay hundred-dollar bribes. He added that the authorities are falsely assessing resettlement centers in Ingushetia as having failed sanitary norms so as to have an excuse to close them. “Workers of the sanitary inspection service have admitted,” he told Aliev, “that they have been ordered from above not to give a positive evaluation under any circumstances.”