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Ingushetia: UNHCR concerned over water and electricity cuts

Briefing notes

Ingushetia: UNHCR concerned over water and electricity cuts

20 February 2004

UNHCR is concerned over the well-being of displaced persons from Chechnya currently residing in temporary settlements in Ingushetia. Since 13 February, UNHCR field staff and NGO partners have confirmed gas cuts in 10 temporary settlements accommodating over 2,000 people. Threats to cut water and electricity supplies have also been reported.

Various reasons have been given for disconnecting the utilities. UNHCR believes that whatever the pretext, it is unacceptable to cut utilities - particularly heating gas - in mid-winter. The authorities of Ingushetia on numerous occasions stated that internally displaced persons (IDPs) will not suffer cuts in basic utility services while enjoying the hospitality of Ingushetia. These unfortunate utility cuts exert pressure on the IDPs to go back to Chechnya and bring into question the voluntary nature of the return.

In conjunction with the ongoing closure of the Bart tented camp, this development in temporary settlements deprives IDPs of a genuine option for safe haven in Ingushetia. Many of the gas cuts were to rooms recently rehabilitated by international humanitarian organizations as alternative shelter for inhabitants of tented camps threatened with closure.

Attempts to put pressure on displaced Chechens to go back to Chechnya have been criticized by the Russian President's Human Rights Commission, which visited Ingushetia at the end of January. The commission recommended that no deadlines be imposed on the return to Chechnya, arguing that inviting the displaced to go back would be premature.

UNHCR and other UN agencies are working with the authorities at both the federal and local levels to urgently resolve this situation

As of 13 February, a total of 65,208 displaced persons from Chechnya were registered for assistance in Ingushetia in the database of UNHCR's implementing partner, the Danish Refugee Council. Of this total, 5,678 persons were registered in three tented camps (including 637 at Bart), 24,035 in temporary settlements, and 35,495 in private accommodation.