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Dutch public experience refugee life in the heart of Amsterdam

News Stories, 24 March 2003

© and courtesy of Join Media
"Filmtent for a Refugee" reaching out to the public in Amsterdam's Leidseplein Square.

AMSTERDAM, March 24 (UNHCR) It was an unusual sight for passers-by in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam last weekend a UNHCR tent set up amid the sunlit terraces of the bustling city centre.

While people on the streets were enjoying the warmth of spring in Leidseplein Square, visitors inside the tent were confronted with the life of Chechens in refugee camps in Ingushetia.

Two old beds, an old television set, some carpets and boxes to sit on were all the comforts on offer. One side of the tent was converted to a film screen like an open window to the world of Chechen refugees. This was an improvised cinema where a documentary film on Chechen refugees, "Sheltered Life", was shown.

In 2002, Dutch filmmakers Ingrid Bosma and Job Groenewegen of Join Media visited two camps in Ingushetia Alina and Sputnik to make a documentary film on the life of Chechen refugees who had fled their homes in Chechnya following the outbreak of hostilities between Russian forces and armed Chechen groups in the fall of 1999. More than three years later, nearly 100,000 Chechens are still displaced, living in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. The vast majority of them live with host families, others are staying in tent camps or in so-called spontaneous settlements.

"During our stay in the camps, we were struck by the force of these people in tough and adverse conditions, and their will to survive," said Bosma. "This is what we tried to capture on film."

"Sheltered Life" shows how these Chechen refugees try to continue their lives in and around the tents mother preparing breakfast, cleaning the home, children learning in school, even young people falling in love. Many of the refugees portrayed in the film long to return to Chechnya, but fear the insecurity in their homeland.

© and courtesy of Join Media
Screening "Sheltered Life", a film about Chechen refugees in Ingushetia's camps, under a UNHCR tent.

Although "Sheltered Life" has been selected for several international film festivals (including Geneva's festival of human rights films in March and April), the filmmakers wanted to do more to recreate the experience of life under a tent. This led to the project, "Filmtent for a Refugee", whereby the film is presented to audiences within a genuine UNHCR tent.

"I found it very impressive," said visitor Leonie, who attended the first screening in Amsterdam with her 12-year-old daughter. "Normally, we only see refugees on TV when there's a big crisis. But here we realise how it really is to have to live like a refugee."

As she spoke, a man with his young son passed by. "See," the father explained to his child, "if people in Iraq have to run away, they'll have to live in tents like that. And that's not very nice!"

Over the coming months, "Filmtent for a Refugee" will be presented all over the Netherlands, allowing viewers to experience the life of Chechen refugees both on screen and in a tented home.

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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

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