Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 36

On December 6, the weekly Moskvovskie Novosti reported: “The first deputy head of the Federal Migration Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Igor Yunash, announced that it is planned fully to disassemble the tent camps in Ingushetia where presently more than 18,000 refugees are living…. It is planned to settle 12,000 refugees who return from Ingushetia in the private sector [of Chechnya] and another 6,000 in points of temporary housing…. It is expected that the main mass of the refugees will return in December.” The weekly went on to note that representatives from a number of the largest IDP camps in Ingushetia had sent their representatives to the Chechen capital “to discover how matters were for those who wanted to return.” Their discovery: “There will be sufficient places for 1,000 persons, while 18,000 refugees are to leave the camps before the end of this year.”

In an article entitled “A Deadly Deportation,” which appeared in the December 3 issue of Novye Izvestia, journalist Zoya Svetova cited the words of Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the “Civil Assistance” organization, who had just returned from Ingushetia. All of the IDPs living in tent camps in Ingushetia, Gannushkina reported, are coming under intense pressure from the authorities to move to Chechnya. Representatives of the Russian federal and Ingush migration organizations and from the pro-Moscow Committee for Refugees of the Chechen Republic come repeatedly to the camps. “Those who come, as a rule, do not introduce themselves, but they repeat one and the same thing: ‘Leave before it is too late,’ and ‘By December 20, not one tent will be left standing in Ingushetia. You can leave now or flee later.'” According to Gannushkina, the closing down of the Iman tent camp, “represents the first attempt at a forced return of [all Chechen] refugees to Chechnya…. Such a thing has already taken place in our country.” Gannushkina’s reference was, of course, to the forced deportation of Chechens and Ingush in 1944, which resulted in their genocide. “Most of all,” she noted, “they [the IDPs] fear the soldiers, who at night rove around Grozny in armored vehicles without numbers or identification marks. They fear the so-called ‘targeted’ cleansing operations during which people, as before, continue to disappear.”

Writing in the December 5 issue of Nezavismaya Gazeta, journalists Yevgeny Verlin and Il’ya Maksakov reported: “Russian human rights defenders, toward whom the structures of the UN orient themselves, maintain that, beginning on December 1, at a time when strong frosts had arrived in Ingushetia, in all the large refugee camps–Alina, Bella, Satsista, Sputnik, Bart, Goskhoz Yandare and so on–the gas and electricity were shut off. People are suffering from the extreme cold, and that could very soon result in their deaths. The human rights defenders do not rule out that the refugees, driven to the point of desperation, might resort to mass actions that might then be declared ‘intrigues of the separatists’ and drowned in blood.”

On November 29, the International Secretariat of Amnesty International affirmed that that human rights organization strongly condemns any attempts to return internally displaced persons to Chechnya unless they can be guaranteed their security. “If sent back,” Amnesty underlined, “most of these people will not only find their homes looted or destroyed, without conditions for even basic subsistence, but will be put at risk of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, ‘disappearance’ and extra-judicial execution” (Reliefweb.int, December 2). In similar fashion, Elizabeth Andersen, director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, warned on the same day: “Closing tent camps and pressuring people to go back to Chechnya without offering any reasonable alternative amounts to forcible return. This is a clear violation of Russia’s obligations under international law” (HRW.org, November 29).

On December 3, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees voiced “grave concern” over the fate of 1,500 displaced Chechens who had been living in a now near-empty camp in Ingushetia. A spokesman for the UNHCR, Kris Janowski, reported that only three tents remained standing, “sheltering the last handful of displaced people awaiting departure to Chechnya” (UN News Service, December 3).

On December 3, Philip T. Reeker, deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department in Washington, said: “Officials from the United Nations informed our embassy in Moscow today that Russian Ministry of Interior officials had closed the Aki Yurt camp for displaced Chechens. That camp is located in Ingushetia. So we’re very concerned about this camp closure, which is essentially a forced eviction. It’s not clear that Russia is providing adequate alternate shelter for those forced to leave the camp when it was shut down” (State.gov, December 3). Three days later, on December 6, Interfax.ru reported that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, had met with the newly appointed Minister of the Russian Federation for the Affairs of Chechnya Stanislav Il’yasov and had expressed the concerns of the U.S. government “over information concerning the forced transfer of refugees from Ingushetia to Chechnya.”