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Impasse over Ingushetia camp resolved

Impasse over Ingushetia camp resolved

After weeks of uncertainty, 1,000 displaced Chechens in Bella camp have moved voluntarily to Satsita camp after the local and federal authorities agreed to respect their rights and not force them to go home.
30 September 2003
UNHCR checking in with displaced Chechens in the tented camps of Sunzhenski district, Ingushetia.

BELLA CAMP, Ingushetia, Sept 30 (UNHCR) - The last group of the 1,000 Chechens in Ingushetia's Bella camp has been relocated to Satsita camp, ending weeks of uncertainty for the displaced people and marking a positive step towards better co-operation between UNHCR and the local and federal authorities.

Most of the displaced Chechens left Bella for Satsita camp over the weekend. After the last group departed on Monday, Bella camp was closed and its infrastructure dismantled to be moved to Satsita camp, where the UN refugee agency has provided 166 tents for accommodation.

Many of the Chechens told UNHCR they were very pleased with the smooth resolution of what had appeared to be a threatening situation at one point. In the last two weeks, they felt they were being pressured to go back to Chechnya when local authorities cut off supplies of water, gas and electricity at Bella camp. Latrines were also reportedly removed, and a military checkpoint set up at the entrance of the camp.

After extensive negotiations between UNHCR, the local and federal authorities as well as the displaced people themselves, the authorities made a number of guarantees to Bella's inhabitants, most of whom chose to stay in Ingushetia for now instead of returning home.

One point of contention was a group of 85 Chechens who were not registered with the migration authorities and feared that they would be excluded from any relocation within Ingushetia. After UNHCR intervened with the Federal Migration Service (FMS) in Moscow, this group received assurances that they would be registered at their new home in Satsita camp.

The FMS also agreed to restore utilities at Bella camp, calming tensions and making the displaced people feel that their rights were again being respected. As a result, they agreed to relocate voluntarily to Satsita camp.

"UNHCR hopes that this more constructive approach, which took into account the rights and interests of all parties, will be replicated in the future, replacing heavy-handed tactics such as cutting off utilities," said the agency's spokesman, Peter Kessler, at a news briefing in Geneva Tuesday.

The recent relocation has boosted Satsita camp's population to more than 3,500, making it the largest of the four remaining camps in Ingushetia. In all, there are some 11,000 displaced Chechens in Satsita, Bart, Sputnik and Alina camps, while another 66,000 live in temporary settlements or private accommodation in Ingushetia.

UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers recently proposed a two-pronged approach to help displaced Chechens under pressure to leave Ingushetia. At the opening of the annual Executive Committee meeting in Geneva on Monday, he stressed that the displaced people must continue to be guaranteed a viable safe haven in Ingushetia until they decide that conditions are conducive for them to return home. For those who wish to return, UNHCR will start projects in Chechnya to enable sustainable reintegration.