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Ogata alarmed about the closure of Chechnya's border, civilian casualties

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Ogata alarmed about the closure of Chechnya's border, civilian casualties

25 October 1999

Today (Monday) the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed alarm about reports of growing civilian casualties resulting from Russia's military crackdown in Chechnya where there is virtually no international humanitarian or monitoring presence.

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata also expressed grave concern over the fate of tens of thousands of terrified civilians trapped inside Chechnya, following the closure of Chechnya's border with Ingushetia.

"Borders must remain open for all those who are afraid and who are forced to flee," said Ogata. UNHCR said the closure of the principal border crossings had cut off the main escape route which more than 170,000 people had used over the past weeks to flee the conflict. The exodus caused the northern Caucasus' most acute humanitarian crisis since the 1994-95 war in Chechnya. UNHCR local staff in Ingushetia said some border crossings were open to pedestrians but most of the flow was stopped.

UNHCR said it expressed concern to the Russian authorities in Moscow over the border closure. Local officials assured UNHCR that the move was a "temporary measure" but it was not clear when the border would re-open.

Over the past four weeks, UNHCR has sent four large humanitarian convoys to help Ingushetia deal with the influx of people, thousands of whom have had to be accommodated in tents and ruined buildings. Aid operations are severely complicated by a precarious security situation which prevents international aid agencies from deploying international staff in the area.