18 April 2004, 21:25

Situation in refugee camps. February, early March 2004

Satsita and Sputnik

The following announcement appeared in the Satsita camp in the 20s of February:

"Dear tenants of the temporary settlement Satsita! We have to inform you the camp will be closed from March 1, 2004. In connection with this, the working group of the Committee on Compensations and Forced Migrants Affairs at the government of the Chechen Republic requests you to decide on the destination and date of your departure from the settlement until February 25, 2004."

The population of the camp became seriously concerned about their future after this. Losing hope to stay in Ingushetia, many despairingly wrote applications to go back to Chechnya.

It should be mentioned Chechen government's spring campaign for having refugees back was better thought-out. Having specified refugees' home addresses, government set a task for every Chechen local administration to conduct "targeted" work, i.e. each tenant of the camp was approached by a person from their "home" administration in Chechnya and suggested coming back home voluntarily and SO FAR without any problems. Making use of the population's nearly total ignorance of law, officials tell people they will not get compensations for their destroyed homes, nor even pensions and children's allowances, unless they come back until March 15. It should be mentioned that the Moscow group that has long operated at camps exerts no pressure on people. They simply check if people are in place and that's all; in private conversations they even confess they are tired of pressure on them from every side and they basically understand refugees. As for the Chechen committee, it extended its operation at the camp until mid-March to ensure that those were back who had not been able to do this before March 1.

The committee works without days off trying to fulfill the tasks set to them on time, without thinking much about people whose resettlement they are intended to ensure, though.

Thus, 12 families (six from the Sputnik camp and six from Satsita) were removed on February 25 to the temporary accommodation at 5 Ippodromnaia in Grozny, Chechnya. It turned out, though, no one was waiting for them at the accommodation, and no rooms were ready for them. Officers of the committee obviously considered their task fulfilled, so they simply disembarked the people from the vehicles and were off leaving them to spend the night in the open. Among the people that came back to Grozny that day was a mother of two small children, Ms. Shokkarova, the wife of Visita Shokkarov, missing since he was detained at Satsita along with his brother in January 2003. Spending the night at some strangers' place she came back to the camp the next day and went to the administration to try to find out the reason for what had happened. The Chechen committee, apparently afraid that the unfavorable information may come to light, swiftly looked into the situation and solved Shokkarova's problem.

Satsita's donors, the Arab organization Saudi Red Crescent, officially said goodbye to camp residents on March 1. Ingushetia's humanitarian organizations are now to decide as soon as possible which of them undertakes sponsorship of this camp.

Meanwhile, the headmaster at Satsita's school received a warning the school would be closed from March 1. This all is happening when there are still 2,500 people plus in the camp and there are three months before the school year is over. So the headmaster claimed he was not going to stop the operation of the school as long as at least one schoolchild attended.

No humanitarian aid has been distributed in refugee camps since February 3, as announced before. Bread was last distributed in Satsita on February 29. The population was informed those who submitted documents to leave for Chechnya before February 25 would be given their humanitarian aid in arrears, while the rest would be given nothing even if their aid is only one month in arrears.

Everyone has already got used to regular electricity cuts. There was about a three days' cut in Satsita and Sputnik (from February 26 to 28). It was first announced to be due to some trouble with the powerline, so the people were calm because there was no electricity in Sleptsovskaia that adjoined the camps, either. (On February 27, though, people began to learn through the grapevine that their camp is cut off the line because of debts, which caused panicky sentiments.)

Gas is supplied continuously. No water has ever been connected to the camp. Local population living not far from the camp prohibited refugees from taking water in their yards, because they formed long lines on their private premises from morning till night. Now refugees go to take water on the power-saw bench premises (2 km from the camp). Refugees say there is a gully very difficult to pass when they carry cans full of water. It should be noted the International Rescue Committee (IRS) installed water bottoms, but the water is not fit for drinking.

Some unofficial sources say Chechnya's Deputy Health Minister told Ingushetia's Health Ministry during his visit to Ingushetia not to treat patients from Chechnya because Chechnya's Health Ministry had gone into operation and was capable of giving medical aid to its citizens. In any case, this was the ground on which Liudmila Borisovna, deputy chief of the gynecology unit at the Sunzha district hospital, refused to receive Taisa Asukhanova, resident in Satsita, and she was delivered by taxi to the maternity ward at the Achkhoi-Martan district hospital thereafter.

There are also some concrete results of pressure exerted on refugees. Alkhazur Bataev was detained in Satsita in early February, as reported before. His wife, Larisa Bataeva was sure this was putting into practice of some threats to her family after she spoke quite severely at a meeting with Ella Pamfilova. She was suggested writing an application for going back to Chechnya in late February after which her husband would be released. She took the risk and agreed, and her husband was released a few days after her return.

Rassvet (Sleptsovskaia, Ingushetia)

After long debate, the Ingush authorities made a decision to resettle people from refugee camps to cabins erected by MSF France on the Rassvet premises. Those who refuse to go back to Chechnya will be moved in the cabins.

First families were moved from Sputnik on February 23.

MSF France officers say the government's proposal for the resettlement was unexpected. It had previously refused to allow the resettlement for more than a year (refugees had asked about that when the Bella camp was being closed, but they received a denial). Satsita residents were informed there were cabins for 110 families in Rassvet. Forty families (252 members) from Satsita expressed a wish to move to Rassvet in late February. Although the cabins are naturally better accommodations than tents, people are worried because of their small size. While in many tents a husband and wife live with their parents making partitions of blankets, there will be no such chance in a tiny room.

The cabins are being occupied but most of them are still vacant because residents of Satsita and Sputnik decided not to move until the school year is over. Those who have moved haven't been paid the promised humanitarian aid in arrears. The conditions in the camp are more or less bearable. There is electricity, water and gas, but there are no showers.

The Bart camp (Karabulak, Ingushetia)

We have to ascertain one of the biggest refugee camps, Bart, was closed in early March. It was completely disbanded. The last nine tents were dismantled on March 1. Many from the camp left for Chechnya, succumbing to promises of compensations and threats of losing social payments (pensions, children's allowances, etc.). Administrative buildings are being dismantled on the bare camp premises.

P.S. The most recent news from Satsita

(received from Akhmet Barakhoev, Memorial's officer in Nazran, Ingushetia, and the author of the previous file, on March 4, 2004)

Dear Svetlana Alekseevna,

I sent you my file on developments in camps just yesterday. Some changes have occurred today.

Firstly, officers of Chechnya's migration authority in association with the Achkhoi-Martan district administration have begun to dismantle the fence in Satsita. Besides, they have started to unscrew all lamps (illuminating the camp). For a while, the camp was cut off gas and electricity.

I told camp tenants to write an application to the Human Rights Center Memorial, so that we act proceeding from this application.

I don't even know what to think. One day they say the camp will be in place until June when the school is over, the next day they threats begin that the camp is just about to be closed. Today they said the camp would be removed before March 15. People are panicky. While they still hoped to move to Rassvet, to the MSF France cabins, yesterday, officials in the presence of Khasimikov said today the resettlement was over, so refugees have but one way from the camp now - to Chechnya.

Tomorrow we'll be working on refugees' applications with lawyers, and I will inform you. I don't know what we can do for them in this stage.

Addendum (intimidation of refugees)

Lorchen Gunter, resident in Grozny (64, 4-b ul. Kassiora). She has lived in camps in Ingushetia since October 1, 1999. When the Bella camp was being closed, Lora came out against the authorities' actions. Having moved to Satsita, she proceeded with her public activities against evicting refugees from camps. She often gives interviews to reporters, cooperates with human rights advocates. The Federal Security Service (FSB) has taken interest in Lora Gunter because of her bold position, which causes concerns about her safety. An interview with Lora Gunter is below.

"I currently live in the Satsita camp (Orjonikidzevskaia, Ingushetia). Representatives of the Chechen committee for refugees resettlement stepped up their activities in the camp in early January. They checked if people are in tents every day and campaigned for going back to Chechnya. In about two weeks, the committee members received help from heads and representatives of Chechnya's district administrations, as well as Chechen police from Grozny. All their questions boiled down to: 'Are you going home and why if not?' When they came to my tent, I told them I was not going to Chechnya.

I felt in a focus of attention after that. Every time I called on the camp administration, a committee member addressed some newcomer officials, saying:

'That's Lorchen Gunter. She is not going to Grozny, so you don't need to visit her tent 46, row 11.'

So it happened more than once.

In February, the interest in me grew. Government representatives paid me five visits in that month. Four Russians in civilian clothes came to me in early February by a green 6th-model Zhiguli. They simply talked to me standing by the tent. They asked mostly why I was in the camp, if I had children, if I was going home, etc. I though they were going round everyone, but later I found out they came to me alone.

Two guys barged into my tent round about mid-February. One Russian, another Ingush. The Russian showed me his ID, but I was so excited I didn't memorize his surname, I only remember he was a FSB colonel. The Ingush guy keep quiet all the time, while the colonel said they'd had a phone call that I campaigned for refugees not to go back to Chechnya and that I was a German representative and secretly sent Chechen families to Germany. Questions followed about where I was born, what I was going to do next, and so on. He took special interest in my son: how old he was, whether he had served in the army, what he did and where he was that moment if not in.

Abu-Supian Gatsaev, a criminal investigation senior lieutenant from Chechnya's Internal Affairs Ministry, came to my tent on February 23 (he approached by a police UAZ vehicle). I figured out from his muddled speech there was a certain application against me (himself, he had not seen or read one, though) that said I had no registration, so he came to check it. When I told him to show his ID, he said:

'I know you have contacts at Memorial, I also have some friends there,' and he began to name people I didn't know at all. I told him there were no such people at Memorial. Putting down my ID data (I have temporary ID, since my passport was stolen along with my purse in 2001), Gatsaev left.

He came again the next day, February 24, at about 11 a.m., and demanded my temporary ID once again. He began to find faults with it saying it had expired and was forged. I suggested that we go to the camp administration where they issued and extended my ID. After that he left.

I was at my neighbors' on February 25, at about 3 p.m., when people came in and said some police officers pulled up at my tent and were walking around it. I went out. I saw a silvery vehicle near my lodging and four people (two in civilian clothes and two in uniforms) at the back of the tent. I came up to them and asked:

'What are you doing here?'

'Who are you?' they asked.

'I am the mistress of this tent,' I replied.

'So you are Lorchen Gunter? We've come to meet you. We saw you on television (my interview with NTV where I spoke about pressure on refugees was broadcast in the news on February 22).

I asked them to introduce themselves, but they said it was of no importance. I answered I had no right to talk to them in that case.

They told me, 'See you,' and left.

An activist from Grozny told me no meeting at the Chechen committee and the Migration Service got by without my name mentioned.

Mr. Panasiuk together with the Achkhoi-Martan district head of administration came to me as far back as in early February. They offered me a post of manager at two new temporary accommodations in the Achkhoi-Martan district and organizing resettlement of people from camps to them. I refused. The deputy head of administration together with Khasimikov (chairman of the Chechen committee for refugees return) paid me another visit, and they tried again to persuade me to write an application for the post of manager. I refused, and they left discontent. I don't know what will be next, and I am just afraid for my children's safety."

Published in March 2004

Source: Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow, Russia)

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