Nearly 800 refugees at Ingushetia’s Bella camp, near the border with Chechnya, sent an open letter on August 8 to Ingush President Murat Zyazikov. In it, the refugees protested a recent visit from Russian Interior Ministry officials, during which, they said, they had been “officially” informed that the camp is going to be closed.
Baudi Dudaev, president of the Union of Forced Migrants, told Agence France-Presse that “the refugees do not want to leave the camp as they are afraid of being struck off the list of people receiving humanitarian aid.” A refugee from Grozny said that “we have received repeated threats, including warnings that they will cut off the gas and electricity, and yesterday they started removing the water taps.”
In an August 8 statement, the international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) warned that the Bella camp already “is gradually being emptied….Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) witnessed today that only 930 people remain in the camp. Statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that 3,200 people were living there in January and 1,430 at the end of July. More than 200 people were pressured out of the camps without prior notice in the last three days, and are now living in forty-five of the 180 shelters built by MSF to give to people who chose to stay in Ingushetia an alternative to returning to Chechnya. This is only the most recent alarming example of the constant psychological pressure exerted on displaced civilians to go back to war-torn Chechnya.”
In a related development, authorities elsewhere in Ingushetia recently forced forty Chechen families to move out of a refugee camp that had been their home for four years and to move into garages in which pesticides had been stored. According to a report published on August 11 by Prague Watchdog, nearly all the transferred Chechens soon began to experience symptoms such as dizziness or nausea, and nine of them had to be hospitalized.
The families have now been allowed to return to the refugee camp. But the authorities–who are trying to phase out all the camps–have forbidden the setting up of new tents there. Some of the Chechens are now spending their nights sleeping under the open sky.