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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - An interrupted life

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

Sixteen-year-old Milana discovers what it means to be displaced three times within a few months in Chechnya.

Interview by Larry Hollingworth

My name is Milana. I am 16 and I am an internally displaced person. I had never heard of internally displaced persons before December 1994 when I fled Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, to escape from the fighting. Within a few months I had been displaced three times. I now live in a collective centre in neighbouring Daghestan.

I have never understood the war. Before it began, I had moved to a flat in Grozny after my parents were divorced and most of my schoolfriends and neighbours were Russians. When the fighting started my father sent me away with a neighbour to a safe village. I took nothing with me since we all thought that it would be over in a few days. But seven months later the war came to the village and I was forced to flee again. This time I went alone. I crossed the border into Daghestan. I was 14, I knew nobody, and I had nowhere to stay. In the market, I met a young woman and I told her my story. She took me home with her.

One day I heard that someone with my mother's name was in the nearby Pokrovskoe collective centre. I raced there and searched the faces of every woman desperately. Unfortunately, our name is fairly common, and my mother was not there. The other displaced people persuaded me to stay there with them, telling me it was too dangerous for someone as young as I was to be alone.

I've lived in Pokrovskoe now for a year. First I lived with a local Chechen family in their house. They were very kind, and they wanted to adopt me, but it caused problems with their own daughter. So I went to the collective centre. Everybody here looks after me. They are all like parents to me.

The centre is maintained by UNHCR. I had never heard of them before the war. Every month they give us food and as I am "vulnerable" I think this is because of my age and because I am alone I get a special distribution. I also have new clothes and shoes. Life here is not that bad. I have lots of friends in the centre and in the village. There is an old babushka called Lala that I always go and see. She is like a mother to me.

I never really talk about the future, I can't see that far ahead. I would like to be a doctor. I really admire them, but I've been out of school for so long that now I'd be embarrassed to go back and sit with the younger ones and be the biggest in the class. The war is over but not a lot has changed for me. I sometimes wonder if my father really loved me. If he did, why did he send me away alone? I would like to go back and look at all my old places, but I don't know anyone there anymore, and what happens if I don't find my mother. But I think that I might be all right; I went to a fortune teller once, and she told me that I would find my mother again.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)




UNHCR country pages

Displacement in Georgia

Tens of thousands of civilians are living in precarious conditions, having been driven from their homes by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On the morning of August 12, the first UNHCR-chartered plane carrying emergency aid arrived in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first UN assistance to arrive in the country since fighting broke out the previous week. The airlift brought in 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items were then loaded onto trucks at the Tbilisi airport for transport and distribution.

A second UNHCR flight landed in Tbilisi on August 14, with a third one expected to arrive the following day. In addition, two UNHCR aid flights are scheduled to leave for Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation the following week with mattresses, water tanks and other supplies for displaced South Ossetians.

Working with local partners, UNHCR is now providing assistance to the most vulnerable and needy. These include many young children and family members separated from one another. The situation is evolving rapidly and the refugee agency is monitoring the needs of the newly displaced population, which numbered some 115,000 on August 14.

Posted on 15 August 2008

Displacement in Georgia

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

When fighting broke out between government troops and rebel forces in Chechnya in 1999, over 200,000 people fled the republic, most of them to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. Today, tens of thousands of Chechens remain displaced in Ingushetia, unwilling to go home because of continuing security concerns.

As of early December 2003, some 62,000 displaced Chechens were living in temporary settlements or in private accommodation. Those living in settlements face constant threats of eviction, often by owners who wish to use their buildings again.

Another 7,900 displaced Chechens live in tents in three remaining camps – Satsita, Sputnik, and Bart.

The authorities have repeatedly called for the closure of tent camps and the return of the displaced people to Chechnya. Three camps have been closed in the past year – Iman camp at Aki Yurt, "Bella" or B camp, and "Alina" or A camp. Chechens from the latter two camps who did not wish to go home were allowed to move to Satsita camp or other existing temporary settlements in Ingushetia.

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

Vincent Cochetel interviewPlay video

Vincent Cochetel interview

On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day 2010, a senior UNHCR staff member reflects on his experience being kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998.
UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and RussiaPlay video

UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and Russia

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres spent four days in Georgia and the Russian Federation to assess UNHCR's humanitarian operations and to speak with those affected by the recent fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.