UNHCR questions closure of camps for internally displaced in Chechnya

News Stories, 12 July 2002

© © UNHCR/F.Riller
Chechens in Akiurt camp in Ingushetia's Malgobek district. Ingushetia hosts an estimated 150,000 displaced people from Chechnya.

GROZNY, Chechnya, July 12 (UNHCR) A high-level United Nations mission is in Grozny today to raise concerns about the circumstances surrounding the Russian authorities' recent closure of two tent camps for displaced people in Chechnya.

Severny and Yuzhny camps in Znamenskoe, Chechnya, were closed last week and their 2,200 inhabitants moved mainly to temporary accommodation centres in the war-ravaged Chechen capital of Grozny. UNHCR has expressed concern about the voluntariness of the return to Grozny, as the displaced people were not informed that they had an option to remain. They were also not fully informed about where they were being moved to.

On July 9, UNHCR travelled to Znamenskoe as part of a UN team to assess the situation there. It found one of the camps dismantled and the other almost empty, with just a few tents remaining.

UNHCR has been in close contact with the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, who has written on behalf of the UN agencies engaged in the North Caucasus to the authorities in Moscow to raise concerns and questions about the closure of the two camps. The refugee agency continues to stress that returns of displaced Chechens should be voluntary, and is working with the government to resolve the concerns.

In mid-June, UNHCR received assurances from Moscow that Chechens living in neighbouring Ingushetia would not be forced back to their volatile Northern Caucasus homeland. Insisting that returns must be voluntary, the refugee agency specified that those who do not wish to return must have options to allow them to remain in safety. Measures include winterisation of accommodation, ongoing safe haven in Ingushetia, regularisation of their status where they are currently residing and, where opportunities arise, medium-term integration.

Chechens displaced in Ingushetia have told UNHCR that they were afraid to return home because of general insecurity, fighting and so-called "mop-up" operations by security forces. Some also feared detention upon return. Security concerns have prevented UNHCR from working in Chechnya and monitoring possible returns.

There are an estimated 150,000 internally displaced persons in Ingushetia and about 160,000 in Chechnya as the result of a three-year conflict between government troops and Chechen rebels.