Un And Moscow Spar Over Refugees

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 5

Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, was in Moscow and Chechnya last week. According to a report aired on January 26 by the radio station Ekho Moskvy, he met with the Putin administration’s minister for Chechen affairs, Stanislav Ilyasov. He was also scheduled to meet with other officials.

After the meeting with Egeland, Ilyasov repeated the Kremlin’s many assurances that refugees now living in Ingushetia will not be forced against their will to return to Chechnya. But at the same time he made what Ekho Mosvky reporter Marina Koroleva called the “contradictory” statement that the Russian authorities are planning to transfer all the refugee camps from Ingushetia to Chechnya.

Ella Pamfilova, head of Vladimir Putin’s presidential commission for human rights, told Koroleva in a January 26 radio interview that this idea of moving the refugee camps was incomprehensible to her. She conceded that the situation within Chechnya remains highly dangerous for returnees.

According to a January 29 report by Reuters, Egeland told reporters on that day that the Russian authorities had dropped the March 1 deadline. That statement was immediately challenged by Ruslan Badalev of the Committee for Chechen National Salvation, who told Reuters that “there are Kadyrov representatives in all the camps and the refugees say they are telling them that by March 1 the camps will no longer exist….I do not know who gave Egeland his guarantees, but the deadline has not been lifted and remains very important.”

Indeed, a February 2 article in Nezavisimaya gazeta suggests that even officials from the Putin administration are admitting that there are serious obstacles to the return of Chechen refugees from Ingushetia. The article quoted Mikhail Tyurkin, deputy head of the federal migration service, as conceding that “about 15,000 forcibly displaced persons from Chechnya do not intend to return to Chechnya.”