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Northern Caucasus: Moscow assurances on Chechens

Briefing notes

Northern Caucasus: Moscow assurances on Chechens

14 June 2002

UNHCR has won assurances from Moscow that an estimated 150,000 Chechens living in neighbouring Ingushetia will not be forced back to their volatile Northern Caucasus homeland. UNHCR officials this week met with the federal Russian authorities in Moscow and local officials in Ingushetia, seeking clarification on a new government plan for return of Chechens who fled to Ingushetia almost three years ago. The Russian authorities on all levels assured UNHCR that only those willing to go back would be returned under the new scheme. UNHCR estimates that very few displaced Chechens are willing to go back at this stage. Indeed, there are still people who flee Chechnya.

UNHCR insists that returns to Chechnya must be voluntary. Voluntary means that those who do not wish to return have options to allow them to remain in safety, including through winterization of accommodations, ongoing safe haven in Ingushetia, regularisation of their status where they are currently residing and, where opportunities arise, medium term integration. UNHCR also stressed in the meetings that humanitarian assistance should follow the people, rather than the other way around.

Chechens displaced in Ingushetia tell UNHCR that they are afraid to return home because of general insecurity, fighting and so-called "mop-up" operations by security forces. Some also fear detention on return. Security concerns have prevented UNHCR from working in Chechnya and monitoring possible returns.

In the meantime, we continue to provide some assistance on a case-by-case basis to a small number of individuals who do choose to return to Chechnya. We also provide some basic humanitarian assistance through our partners to some of the most vulnerable people affected by the conflict inside Chechnya itself.

In Ingushetia, most of the displaced Chechens (64%) live with host families, while 21% live in spontaneous settlements - often in converted farm or industrial buildings - and only 15% are staying in tent camps. Many have spent three harsh winters displaced in Ingushetia already. UNHCR has offices and field staff in Ingushetia who work to help displaced people obtain documentation, to avoid and respond to evictions and improve shelter and temporary settlements.