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Ingushetia: UNHCR's grave concerns on Aki Yurt camp

Briefing notes

Ingushetia: UNHCR's grave concerns on Aki Yurt camp

3 December 2002

UNHCR remains extremely concerned over the well-being of displaced Chechens who had been living in the tent camp in Aki Yurt, Ingushetia. As we mentioned on Friday, that camp had housed some 1,500 people at the beginning of last week. Despite our expressed concerns last week about the Russian authorities' plans to close the camp and our request that they postpone closure until decent alternative shelter could be found in Ingushetia, the tent camp is now essentially empty. As of late afternoon yesterday (Monday), only three tents remained standing in Aki Yurt, sheltering the last handful of displaced people awaiting departure to Chechnya. Several large tents used by NGOs for activities in the camp also remained, and the Ingush authorities had asked the NGOs to dismantle them.

Over the last two days (Dec. 1-2), UNHCR and UN international field staff were not allowed to enter the camp, under the pretext that their visit would give displaced people there false hopes. Authorities also cited the presence of UNHCR local monitors in the camp.

Initial estimates from our local monitors indicate that just under one-half of Aki Yurt's former residents remain in Ingushetia, presumably having found other accommodation on their own - either with host families or in existing temporary settlements. Up to 300 people, many of them elderly, remain in six temporary settlements adjacent to the former camp. Another 21 families continue to live in brick houses they had managed to build themselves on the former campsite.

Our staff and monitors are now trying to follow up on the location and condition of those displaced Chechens who remained in Ingushetia. We are very concerned that they receive adequate housing and assistance for the winter. We have also requested our implementing partners in Chechnya itself to try to identify people who have returned from Aki Yurt in recent days.

We are seeking meetings with Ingush authorities to discuss assistance to those displaced people from the camp who remain in Ingushetia. We want assurances that gas and electricity will remain available for those staying on or near the former camp site. Weather conditions over the weekend and particularly on Sunday were harsh, with snow, icy roads and -9ºC temperatures. We're also trying to get agreement from Ingush authorities to use our stock of "box tents" for those former Aki Yurt residents who may need them.

Meanwhile, in the four tent camps in Sleptsovskaya, Ingushetia, military presence near the camps remains in place. This is reportedly causing high anxiety among the residents, particularly children who are frightened by the proximity of the soldiers. The need for winterization and replacement of worn-out or damaged tents remains urgent, but authorities have so far not allowed us to do that. In all, prior to the past week's events in Aki Yurt, some 110,000 displaced Chechens had been living in Ingushetia, with approximately 20,000 of them in six tent camps.