UNHCR helps returnees rebuild their lives as stability returns to Chechnya

News Stories, 5 September 2007

© UNHCR/T.Makeeva
UNHCR continues to help displaced people in Chechnya as the territory slowly recovers from conflict. Two Chechens here receive legal counselling from a UNHCR partner organization.

GROZNY, Chechnya, September 5 (UNHCR) Earlier this year, a twin-engined Tupolev 134 landed in Grozny. It was the first scheduled passenger flight to the capital of Chechnya since 1999 and the authorities heralded the plane's safe arrival on March 8 as proof that conflict in this republic of the Russian Federation had finally come to an end.

There are a few grounds for optimism the security situation has improved, the economy is showing signs of recovery, and most of the ethnic Chechens who fled their homes during two wars have since returned. But despite the advances, serious challenges remain and the UN refugee agency is helping the returnees and those who remain displaced to face new hurdles.

"The humanitarian situation has improved significantly in the region. Stabilization of the situation has become a reality, tangible positive changes have happened, particularly in Chechnya," noted Jo Hegenauer, head of the UNHCR office in the neighbouring republic of North Ossetia.

"There have been big changes," agreed Marem Dikaeva,* a resident of a temporary accommodation centre for displaced people in Grozny. "We are not scared to go out of the house anymore. Before, I was afraid to let my children go out to visit their friends," she added.

The memories of terror and destruction remain vivid for those who went through the wars that started in 1994 and 1999. "The whole house and even the cellar [in our family home in Grozny] were shaking because of the bombs," recalled Lecha Abazov,* who has spent more than seven years in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in neighbouring Ingushetia.

"I was shot at by a sniper who, fortunately, missed. Then some soldiers used me as a human shield. They forced me to go down into cellars where they suspected Chechen fighters were hiding," added the 68-year-old.

He was among hundreds of thousands of people who sought safety elsewhere in Chechnya, in other parts of the Russian Federation or overseas. But while Abazov remains in Ingushetia, most IDPs have returned home.

Today, there are some 15,000 Chechen IDPs in Ingushetia compared to 240,000 in January 2000 and some 30,000 within Chechnya itself compared to an estimated 170,000 seven years ago. There are also about 6,500 Chechen IDPs in the republic of Dagestan.

Despite the widespread material damage, there are clear signs of economic recovery. Aside from the return of displaced people, the pace of reconstruction is gathering pace with building sites all over Grozny. The authorities earlier this year announced plans to build housing for some 3,000 displaced families currently living in temporary accommodation centres.

UNHCR quick impact projects, meanwhile, are helping a few returnees in Chechnya, as well as displaced Chechens in the neighbouring republics, to start small businesses.

The refugee agency's partner organizations provide free legal advice and counselling services to the population including returnees and people still displaced inside Chechnya on issues ranging from documentation and compensation for lost housing and property, to representation in civil and criminal courts.

But significant problems remain in Chechnya and neighbouring republics. In April, UNHCR and other UN agencies withdrew from Ingushetia after a rocket attack on their joint compound in the town of Nazran. The offices remain closed and the incident showed that security remains an issue.

Human rights abuses and problems in implementing the rule of law especially execution of court orders are also causes of concern.

"Although statistics show that the number of human rights violations has dropped significantly in Chechnya, human rights violations are still widespread in the republic," said a representative of a human rights organization in Chechnya. These include torture, extrajudicial executions, abductions and forced disappearances.

"The development of a true system of law and order is the basis for more effective solutions to the problems of refugees and IDPs," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres noted during a visit to Chechnya last year.

* Names changed for protection reasons

By William Spindler in Grozny, Chechnya, Russian Federation




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

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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.
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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.