18 January 2004, 20:02

Human Rights Center Memorial on refugees' return from Ingushetia to Chechnya

The reference was drawn up on the basis of monitoring the living conditions in refugee camps in Ingushetia and "temporary accommodation points" (TAPs) in Grozny. The situation is discussed as of the autumn of 2003.

Below, in accordance with the internationally accepted terminology, we will call those who fled from military action in Chechnya internally displaced persons (IDPs).

As far back as in February 2001, it was obvious the Russian government was seeking to have back to Chechnya those citizens that had left it during military action. Migration authorities have since exerted systematic pressure on residents of refugee camps in Ingushetia, inducing them to return home. However, in spite of hard living conditions in camps, refugees made no haste to leave Ingushetia, and they named the two basic obstacles to the return: lack of security and ruined homes.

Attempts to urgently have Chechnya's residents back on its territory were stepped up in the late summer and early autumn of 2003, before the presidential election in Chechnya. In late October, migration services achieved a first success: the number of lodged applications for return surpassed migration authorities' capability of transportation to Chechnya.

At once refugees could feel this - the pressure dropped, and it is unlikely to be resumed soon: the migration services will be fulfilling the schedule resettling those families that have applied.

I. Dynamics of IDPs' return from refugee camps to Chechnya

The most active process of resettlement to Chechnya in November 2003 was taking place in the camps Alina and Bart (Karabulak, Ingushetia). The return dynamics can be traced in files of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees about the number of residents of refugee camps in Ingushetia in September-November 2003.


Sept. 30

Oct. 31

Nov. 10

















*The higher number of residents comparing with September is linked with resettlement to the camp Satsita of refugees from the closed camp Bella.

According to the migration services, about 956 people (113 tents) stayed in Alina in late November versus the 3,184 people who had lived there in November 2002.

The significant increase in the return dynamics was determined by the two key factors:

  • Pressure exerted on IDPs in September-October 2003. The following should be referred to as the most noticeable pressure methods: electricity and gas cuts; humanitarian aid in arrears for months; and arbitrary exclusion of individual citizens or complete families from humanitarian aid lists. Psychological pressure was exerted in various forms: citizens were warned that those who did not resettle on time would be stripped of government support, and they were threatened that everyone would be considered a gunman who did not resettle on time and that the camps would be closed. Thus, according to our observers, the closing of the camp Bella had a very strong psychological effect on residents in the other camps, especially in Alina. To avoid Bella's destiny, a lot of Alina's residents lodged applications for return. At the same time, to those who wished to move migration authorities promised comprehensive support and complete settlement of humanitarian aid arrears as of the day of return to Chechnya. Besides, people were promised priority transfer of compensations for destroyed homes and assets in accordance with the Russian government's July 4, 2003, Decree N 404.
  • Establishment of TAPs in Chechnya. To carry out resettlement, reconstruction work was launched urgently from early August 2003 at facilities intended to be TAPs in Chechnya. In the second half of October, eight facilities were put into operation with a total capacity of 6,000 people plus. Thus, one of the previously mentioned obstacles to return (ruined homes) was eliminated, as authorities claimed.

II. Situation in refugee camps in Ingushetia

The situation in the camps was calm in November. Pressure on their residents on the part of authorities ceased. Over the past month, citizens reluctant to move from Ingushetia to Chechnya are offered places in the Malgobek district, Ingushetia, but refugees do not want to move to this remote district.

Humanitarian aid in the camps is provided by: the Danish Refugee Council, Islamic Relief, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The situation remains uncertain with refugees from the closed camp Bella. Its residents cannot find themselves on Federal Migration Service lists, and accordingly, they don't receive aid along this line.

The state of affairs remains difficult with settlement of humanitarian aid arrears. Arrears are not settled for all months to those who return to Chechnya, as was promised, but only for the last two months. They are also denied the promised priority transfer of compensations.

Besides, residents of the refugee camps in Ingushetia have lately received information about bad living conditions provided in Chechnya for those who returned. The TAPs which republican officials at various levels claimed were ready in reality needed huge additional work; living there directly threats citizens' health.

This information causes concern among those refugees who plan to return. Many of them wanted to revoke their applications. However, migration services representatives claimed that was impossible.

III. Situation in Grozny-based TAPs

In early August 2003, reconstruction work was launched urgently at facilities intended to be TAPs. The task was set to the builders: putting the facilities into operation in a short time (a bit longer than a month, before the presidential election). To fulfill the task, the builders worked day and night, but even so they were not able to manage it on time. In spite of a lot of unfinished work, Chechnya's authorities solemnly announced in the second half of September that the facilities were ready to admit IDPs. As a result, most TAPs are in an emergency condition; they are unfit for human habitation, and a long stay in them threatens refugees' health.

Living conditions in Grozny-based TAPs

1. Heating

For various reasons, none of the eight new and most of the previously operative TAPs had heating by the start of the heating season.

Thus, adjustment of the heating system is still underway at the TAP at 289 Derzhavina St. (Staropromyslovsky district). Lack of heating resulted in the rooms growing damp. Because of cold and dampness, a lot of migrants moved to their relatives, for a time. The migration services draw up statements of resettlement in respect of those families. Three such statements strip a family of the right for temporary accommodation.

The TAP at 1 and 4 Koltsova St. (Mayakovsky settlement, Staropromyslovsky district) is equipped with automatic German heating boilers requiring a definite level of gas pressure and continuous supply of electricity. Gas to the TAP is supplied from the residential area, and it is insufficient.

Because of line overload, electricity is supplied with great interruptions (2-3 days). But even when it is supplied, it is impossible to launch the boilers because the voltage is too low. The TAP's administrators say to repair the situation there is a need to build a new gas supply line and install diesel engines to supply electricity. As a result, this TAP is not heated at all, which makes living in it impossible in cold weather. TAP dwellers seek to spend the night at their friends' or relatives'.

The situation is a little better in the TAP at 2 and 3 Koltsova St. Heating is supplied, but low pressure prevents the temperature in the boilers from growing over 50 degrees, while the required minimum is 80 degrees. The rooms are not warm enough because of that.

Troubles with heating occur in the TAP at 11 Malgobekskaya St. The heating system also works by electricity here.

The TAP at 17 Novatorov St. is not heated. The heating system is damaged here, and it needs repairs.

2. Water supply

None of the newly-established TAPs is equipped with permanent water bottoms or other reservoirs for drinking water. In many TAPs, they use water from barrels meant for industrial water to drink and cook. If possible, the families try to stock up on drinking water from nearby springs. Thus, residents of the TAP at 11 Malgobekskaya St. take drinking water 300 m away from their residence, and they have to stand in long queues listening to residential area dwellers' discontent.

3. Electricity and gas

Electricity is supplied to all TAPs, but the voltage is very low. For this reason, it is impossible to use electric ranges for cooking on days when gas is cut.

Gas is supplied to all TAPs, but there are frequent cuts without people being warned.

4. Hygiene and sanitary conditions

None of the newly-launched TAPs has a sewerage system, showers, or a laundry. Because there is no water supply and a sewerage system, residents do not only have to lift pure water to upper floors, but also take spent water out. In many new TAPs, water discharge is not functioning even in kitchens. Such a situation can be observed in the TAPs at 14/5 Dudaeva Blvd. and 11 Malgobekskaya St.

Because there are no showers, people have no opportunity to wash and launder, which leads in many TAPs to an inadmissible hygiene situation. That is why the administrator of the TAP at 1 Koltsova St. reequipped one of the kitchens for washing and laundering.

The impossibility to use toilets at night (the TAPs are closed for entrance and exit from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) causes physical sufferings to TAP residents, especially elderly ones and children.

The waste removal problem is not solved. Because there are no garbage bins, waste is dumped not far from the residence, from where it is also removed irregularly.

In many TAPs' basements, groundwater rose up. For this reason, it is very damp on lower floors, and there is a specific odor.

Grozny-based TAPs: Medical and humanitarian aid; education.

Some new TAPs still have no first-aid posts (e.g. the TAPs at 11 Malgobekskaya St. and 289 Derzhavina St.). People living there do not receive the first aid they need.

Workers from the first-aid posts at the TAP in Koltsova St. say the number of people with colds is critically high because of low temperature in rooms and dampness. More than 70 people, chiefly old persons and children, applied to the first-aid post from early October to November 19, 2003. The medical staff and medicaments for the first-aid post are provided by City Hospital N3. Sometimes, help is provided by the Disaster Medicine Center. There is also a functioning ambulance station at this TAP.

Food is handed out mostly along the line of migration authorities. The regularity of distribution and the quantity and quality of distributed food vary. Food is often supplied with a long delay. IDPs continue to complain of the quality of distributed canned stewed meat and condensed milk. They say the meat cannot be eaten. In this connection, the following exclamation of a TAP resident seems to express everyone's mood: "We're boiled in one cauldron of war along with the military and police, but for some reason they're given stewed meat, while we're given Whiskas. It turns out we are second-class people!"

Migrants had moved into the TAP at 3 Koltsova St. in mid-October, but they did not receive food aid as of November 19, 2003.

The range of foodstuffs handed out on November 20 to a person for 10 days in the TAP at 111 Mayakovsky Settlement is: condensed milk (1 can, 400 gm), sugar (800 gm), vegetable oil (1 bottle, 900 gm), buckwheat (3 kg), and rice (2 kg).

Humanitarian organizations provide practically no food aid.

Bread which is to be handed out daily, half a loaf a person, is distributed with great interruptions in many TAPs. People complain of its quality and staleness. Migrants say bread is at best handed out 3-4 times a month in the TAP at 17 Novatorov St.

In some TAPs, education is not provided for schoolchildren living there. City schools refuse to accept IDPs' children with reference to overload. Secondly, when coming back from the camps in Ingushetia many schoolchildren had to hand in their books, and they are given no books in Chechnya. Their parents cannot buy them. Many do not go to school because of great gaps in studies that resulted from their refugee life or because they have no decent clothes.

Grozny-based TAPs: Security

In October, the Human Rights Center Memorial registered three armed attacks on Grozny-based TAPs.

A group of about seven military men committed on October 2, 2003, an assault on the TAP at 119 Mayakovsky Settlement (Staropromyslovsky district).

The military beat the guards and took away their arms: a submachine gun, 2 handguns, a two-way radio, and office ID. The military took no action with regard to the residents. However, the TAP dwellers spent the whole night in fear awaiting the bandits' return.

The prosecutor's office took legal action on this case and is investigating it.

On the same night of October 3, 2003, the recently-opened TAP at 289 Derzhavina St. was surrounded by military men in disguise. Some of them entered the building, checked the rooms and randomly checked some residents' passports. Having asked if there were strangers, the military men were off. Although they did not commit grave violations, the people spent the whole night under a strong stress.

The third incident occurred late on October 31, 2003, in the TAP at 11 Malgobekskaya St. (Leninsky district).

An armed group of up to eight people penetrated the building at about 10 p.m. The attackers wore camouflage uniforms, their faces were masked. Attacking the guards, the criminals seized their arms and beat the guards. Fortunately, the criminals did not harm the TAP residents in their rooms. Taking a submachine gun, they disappeared.

IDPs' mental condition

A lot of those who have returned are depressed, many wish they had not come back and express concern about spending the forthcoming winter in the TAPs unfit for life.

Source: Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow, Russia)

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