North Caucasus Update
Most wary of going back to Chechnya
Generally, a majority of the displaced into Ingushetia declare the desire to go back. However, widespread destruction in Chechnya, as well as reports of beatings, detention and rape are preventing a larger return and also in some cases pushing out those who had already gone back. One man who recently returned to Chechnya and fled again alleged that he had to pay a bribe to be released from a military prison camp, after four days of detention and daily beatings. Testimonies of detention and violence against returnees cannot be confirmed independently but they seem to form an alarming pattern. Those travelling between Chechnya and Ingushetia also complain about being harassed by numerous military and police checkpoints. UNHCR has also heard complaints of violence against civilians by rebel forces.
On March 6, up to 60 people demonstrated at the main border crossing point in Ingushetia, demanding an end to hostilities in Chechnya and a deployment of international observers there.
More convoys for Grozny considered but security precarious
On February 29 the first UNHCR relief convoy arrived in Grozny, where an estimated 21,000 civilians remain, primarily women and children. The team of UNHCR local staff who accompanied the convoy reported widespread devastation in Grozny, which has neither gas nor electricity. The city's civilian population is confined to four city districts. Needs are huge and supplies are scarce.
UNHCR is looking into the possibility of dispatching more aid to Chechnya amid huge security concerns. Recent fresh clashes between Russian and rebel forces, including in the area of Grozny where the first UNHCR convoy went, have shown how volatile the security situation in the Chechen capital is. There is also continued danger from mines and unexploded ordnance.
Aid to Ingushetia flows but many concerns remain
UNHCR continues to send weekly convoys to Ingushetia's capital Nazran. With most of those displaced from Chechnya wary of going back, Ingushetia is still hosting up to 180,000 displaced from Chechnya. Since the aid operation started last October, UNHCR has sent a total of 44 aid convoys bringing more than 5,500 metric tons of food and other relief supplies to the northern Caucasus, primarily to Ingushetia but also to Dagestan, North Ossetia and Karachay-Cherkessia.
Despite a growing relief effort, sanitary conditions in makeshift shelters and tented camps continue to be very difficult, resulting in the spread of scabies and bed bugs in some spontaneous settlements. The situation there is further exacerbated by the lack of sufficient heat and interruptions in electricity supply. In some places, the inhabitants allege that electricity has been cut off by the authorities to pressure the displaced to go back to Chechnya.
The World Health Organization does not report any disease outbreaks of epidemic proportions but there is continued worry about the threat of a possible spread of tuberculosis which is endemic to that area of the northern Caucasus.