Asylum seeker killed in Moscow; Ingush camp for Chechens closed
GENEVA, April 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has expressed concern about the latest in a string of violent attacks on asylum seekers in Moscow. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Russian Federation, the authorities in Ingushetia have closed Sputnik camp for displaced Chechens.
UNHCR has expressed "deep regret" over the death of Afghan asylum seeker Abdul Wase Abdul Karim on Wednesday. In what appears to have been a racially-motivated attack, he was beaten up on March 25 by skinheads wielding metal bars in a metro station in south Moscow. He died in hospital six days later, without ever regaining consciousness.
Russian authorities are investigating the case.
Karim, a member of the Afghan Tajik minority, arrived in the Russian Federation in May 1998 after fleeing the Taliban regime in Herat. He registered with UNHCR in May 2000, and received a "pre-registration" number with the Moscow Migration Service, but did not manage to enter the national refugee status determination (RSD) procedure before his death.
Local media said he left behind his Russian wife and a three-month-old daughter.
Karim's murder is the latest in a series of violent attacks on asylum seekers in Moscow. In September 2001, Angolan asylum seeker Massa Mayoni was killed in a similar attack. Last August, an Ethiopian asylum seeker was injured in another attack that appeared to be racially-motivated. Other less serious assaults on asylum seekers have often gone unreported.
Of the 5,790 asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Moscow, 4,839 are from Afghanistan. Unofficial estimates put the number of Afghans living in refugee-like situations in the Russian Federation at up to 100,000.
The refugee agency is working with the authorities to speed up the process of claiming asylum. Currently, about two-thirds of the UNHCR-registered asylum seekers are waiting for access to the RSD procedure and remain undocumented during the two-year waiting period. During this time, they cannot work legally, and are subject to fines and threats of deportation.
As of 31 December 2003, there were 8,725 recognised refugees in the Russian Federation, including 362 people from non-CIS (Commonwealth of the Independent States) countries, of which 346 are Afghans. In addition, 1,232 people - mostly Afghans - have been granted temporary asylum.
In a separate development on Thursday, the authorities in the Russian republic of Ingushetia closed Sputnik camp for displaced Chechens. According to the Danish Refugee Council, UNHCR's implementing partner, the majority of some 100 remaining inhabitants chose to return to Chechnya, while the rest moved to other shelters in Ingushetia, in line with agreements on camp closures.
However, UNHCR staff and other monitors who maintained a steady presence in Sputnik camp in the last month reported that compared to the recent closure of Bart and Alina camps, there was a higher degree of pressure on the displaced Chechens to leave Sputnik camp, particularly in the later stages.
This included several complaints by the displaced people about aggressive and threatening behaviour by government officials, compared with only infrequent and isolated reports of intimidating behaviour in the previous two camp closures.
In addition, an explosion about 1 km from the camp last weekend - although claiming no fatalities - was interpreted as a form of pressure to leave. Electricity was also cut early on the last day of the camp, but restored in time for the actual camp closure.
UNHCR staff continue to systematically interview the returnees to verify the voluntary character of return and to confirm that they are aware of the possibility of receiving alternative shelter in temporary settlements in Ingushetia upon the closure of their camps. However, the agency is concerned that the recent relocation from Sputnik camp may have depleted the number of alternative shelters available.
Meanwhile, returns to Chechnya appear to be increasing. In March, 4,881 Chechens were reported to have gone back in movements organised by the Chechen Forced Migrant Committee, while another 212 were reported to have returned on their own.
UNHCR believes that this may be the result of the authorities' decision to give Chechens in the tented camps documents showing their eligibility for compensation for ruined houses and lost property in Chechnya.
The closure of Sputnik camp leaves just one camp, Satsita, in Ingushetia. According to the Danish Refugee Council, as of March 31, there were more than 60,000 Chechens registered for assistance in Ingushetia, down from the peak of 200,000 in 1999. Of these, more than 24,000 are living in temporary settlements and more than 33,000 in private accommodation.