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North Caucasus Update

North Caucasus Update

30 June 2000

While there has been a trickle of people going back to Chechnya, the bulk of the displaced population, estimated at about 170,000, remains in Ingushetia amid reports of fighting and instability in many areas of Chechnya.

Though helping those who wish to return spontaneously, UNHCR and its partner agencies are making contingency plans for the coming autumn and winter since continued instability in Chechnya and widespread devastation caused by the war make a massive return of the displaced unlikely before the winter.

Meanwhile, some of the 170,000 displaced hosted by Ingushetia have come under indirect pressure to leave. Earlier this month, for example, the Russian federal authorities removed several hundred internally displaced people from 10 railway wagons at Ingushetia's makeshift Severny settlement and transferred the empty carriages to Grozny, where most of the housing has been destroyed. The occupants had to find alternative shelter. In a separate development, the authorities on June 19 stopped supplementary hot food and bread distribution to the displaced, citing financial constraints. There are also reports of the displaced being under pressure to leave privately-owned abandoned buildings, factories and farms. Taken together, these developments indicate a pattern of pressure on the IDPs to leave. UNHCR has told Russian authorities that despite various constraints, all efforts should be made to maintain a safe haven in Ingushetia.

UNHCR is helping those who wish to return spontaneously by giving them pre-departure food packages as well as non-food parcels with tool kits, shoes and clothing. The office also keeps the IDPs informed about their option to remain. UNHCR and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) are also launching a joint mine-awareness programme for children amid reports of a growing number of mine casualties inside of Chechnya. The programme will include a mine-awareness video as well as posters and leaflets for use both in Ingushetia and in Chechnya.

Tent city planned

UNHCR is currently looking for a site in Ingushetia to build tented accommodation for an estimated 12,000 people who are gradually expected to leave railway wagons and other makeshift accommodation. UNHCR is also looking at ways of supporting local Ingush families who host the displaced, either by giving them cash grants which the Swiss government offered to finance or by paying their high utility bills.

Displaced without documents receive temporary IDs

At the urging of UNHCR, 12 federal government officials arrived in Ingushetia from Moscow this week to start issuing identity papers to people who lost their documents as they fled from Chechnya to Ingushetia. The temporary IDs will make it easier for the displaced to move through various checkpoints. They will also enable pensioners to receive their federal pension benefits. The identity issue, raised by UNHCR with the Russians on many occasions, has been one of our principal concerns since it affects between 15 and 20 percent of the displaced.

UNHCR has also set up a legal counselling centre run by a local partner. The centre, staffed with professional lawyers, advises the displaced on a number of legal issues such as documents, pension entitlements, human rights and other legal issues. In order to address the psychological needs of the displaced, especially children, UNHCR together with the UN Childrens Fund (UNICEF), supports summer camps where thousands of displaced and local children spend the summer together. 8,000 children benefit from such camps in Ingushetia and 3,000 more in neighbouring North Ossetia.

More funds needed this year

The expensive emergency relief operation in the Northern Caucasus, plagued by excessive taxation, fragile security, and procurement difficulties, has already cost more than $ 7.4 million since the crisis began last fall. UNHCR now requires $16.2 million more to pay for the relief effort through the end of this year. The amount also covers the cost of aid for an estimated 7,000 refugees who fled from Chechnya to Georgia.