Azerbaijan + 1 more

Humanitarian aid for the victims of the Chechnya conflict

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Location of operation: Caucasus (Russia, Azerbaijan)
Amount of Decision: EUR 22,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/-EE/BUD/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population

1.1. - Rationale :

Political and security situation

The situation in Chechnya has been relatively "stable" for the last few months, with no major rebel attack but, as always, low-intensity fighting in some parts of the Republic and regular but limited rebel attacks against pro-Moscow law enforcement or administration officials. Parliamentary elections took place last November without disruption.

In the absence of a real political peace process, however, and with the level of insecurity and the continued presence of an estimated 80,000 military, one cannot speak of "normalisation" in the Republic. The situation remains unstable and volatile. Human rights organisations continue to report human rights violations on a regular basis, including arbitrary arrests and condemnations, abductions, torture and extra-judiciary executions of civilians. The number of disappearances, however, decreased in 2005, from to 396 in 2004 to 316 in 2005 according to Memorial(1) figures. However, Memorial works only on one third of the territory, and its monitors recently noted that due to the climate of fear in Chechnya, people refuse to talk and fear to report disappearances. The situation in the rest of the region continues to give rise to concerns, as the risk of the whole Northern Caucasus becoming further destabilised, is increasing. After Ingushetia and Daghestan, which have grown more and more unstable, Kabardino-Balkaria, long considered a haven in the region, is no longer immune either, as shown by the massive attack on lawenforcement structures which took place in Naltchik last October.

Humanitarian situation

1. Northern Caucasus

The victims of the conflict in Chechnya, notably those who are displaced within Chechnya or outside the Republic, are heavily traumatised by past and ongoing violence and lawlessness. The prevailing insecurity in Chechnya continues to affect families and hampers community development and the restoration of peace. People still suffer from insecurity and violence against civilians, unemployment and the lack of opportunities. The federal government's contribution towards the recovery of Chechnya increased in 2005 (for 2005, the federal budget was announced to be over 11 billion rubles, i.e. more than EUR 300 million). However, there is still no large reconstruction of infrastructures in Chechnya. Corruption is reported to be the major issue facing the reconstruction of the Republic., Moreover, considering the extent of the destruction, particularly in Grozny, conditions for the population continue to be extremely difficult. Although there is some economic progress, the nearly totally destroyed capital has seen little reconstruction taking place despite the fact that thousands of displaced people have returned from Ingushetia (the number of IDPs there went from 67,000 end of 2003 to 26,000 currently), increasing the population significantly. Apartment buildings are in ruins and shelter conditions remain totally inadequate, with the majority of people accommodated in makeshift apartments in bullet-ridden and half-bombed buildings with no running water, no sewage system and irregular electricity. As for most of those who came back from Ingushetia, voluntarily or not, they face a second displacement either to overcrowded temporary accommodation centres or to the private sector, as they are not able to go back to their destroyed houses. Only a small number of private houses have undergone basic rehabilitation thanks to international organizations and to the payment of federal compensations, but apartment buildings are not being reconstructed. As for daily life, people continue to depend on State allowances, odd jobs, humanitarian aid and indebtedness in a context where job opportunities are scarce outside the public sector : according to official sources, some 60 to 70% of the active population is unemployed.

The number of Chechen IDPs in Ingushetia which the international community continues to assist was relatively stable in 2005 and currently amounts to some 26,000. It seems that no further large movement of return is to be expected as long as people remaining in Ingushetia have no place to go to in Chechnya, or fear returning there. In addition to Ingushetia, there are 9,000 IDPs in Dagestan.

Several developments over the last two years call for a more diversified humanitarian response than before :

1) Most of the people who were displaced in Ingushetia returned to Chechnya, especially in 2004 when camps closed, and the majority of them found themselves displaced for a second time because their house was destroyed by the conflict. This means that funding is now to be concentrated mostly on Chechnya and that shelter needs have become a priority, in order for people to be able to come back to their homes and restart their livelihoods. This does not mean, of course, that people displaced outside Chechnya should not continue to be assisted.

2) With the slight improvement in security and access, new areas have opened up to humanitarian organisations : as a consequence, DG ECHO's partners are now able to assist populations which had been unattended until now and still need basic help.

3) Six years into the conflict and due to increased socio-economic activity, notably trade, food aid is no longer the most appropriate instrument to support beneficiaries. Food is available on the markets. The problem is that households have no economic access to it. Therefore, the emphasis should be on gradually continuing to decrease food aid and replacing it with other types of assistance : food security, income-generation activities or vouchers. Food aid should eventually be kept only for the very most vulnerable until they can be taken over by other assistance mechanisms.

2. Azerbaijan

A number of Chechens have also sought refuge in neighbouring countries, notably Azerbaijan. There are, according to UNHCR, 5,441 registered Chechen refugees currently living in Baku. The Azerbaijani government does not want to grant them refugee status in order not to jeopardise its relationship with Russia, but tolerates them. UNHCR registers them and gives them a paper stating that they are under UNCHR protection. There used to be many more refugees, with 8 to 10,000 people in 2004, but a large number of them had to leave in 2005, due to several reasons. One of the main reasons seems to have been the very difficult material conditions they were living in, which deteriorated noticeably when UNHCR decreased their already very limited assistance due to funding problems. As a result, the vulnerable refugees saw the little cash assistance they got interrupted one month out of every three months. This system is still ongoing, which means that every three months, families are being expelled from the rooms they rent and have to find another kind of shelter, which is becoming more and more difficult in Baku where rent prices are rocketing along with oil prices. These difficulties pushed many families to leave Azerbaijan and sometimes to return to Chechnya because of the lack of alternative places and despite the risks they face. Only a few were accepted for resettlement in a third country.

Until the end of 2001, Azerbaijan used to be a safe haven for Chechen refugees, several of whom were resistance fighters or their relatives, and many of them loyal to the Maskhadov administration. The government welcomed them and there were many Islamic NGOs which helped them, as well as some help from the diaspora, so the situation was relatively comfortable. The situation changed dramatically with 9/11 and even further after the Nord- Ost theatre tragedy in Moscow. These NGOs were dismantled and the government adopted a quite hostile policy towards Chechen refugees, instructing doctors in hospitals not to treat the wounded any longer, limiting access to social services (barring in particular access to orthopedic care) and even at some point barring Chechen children from Azeri schools. There were many police crackdowns and arrests of men and some refugees even disappeared, unofficially handed over to Russia without going through a judiciary process. As a result, refugees in Azerbaijan feel very insecure and both UNHCR and ICRC explain that those who are still there remain because they have no other place to go.

Because of the intervention of UNHCR and ICRC, the situation improved slightly in some respects, although the government, under pressure from the Russian Federation, continues to refuse to treat Chechen refugees in the same way as other refugees and to apply real asylum procedures, in violation of international humanitarian law. Children are now enrolled in schools and, since recently, people are being re-allowed access to orthopedic services, accompanied by ICRC. However, the material situation of most refugees is extremely precarious and the level of UNHCR assistance still largely inadequate. As UNHCR is dealing with an urban caseload which is not allowed to work, UNHCR opted for cash assistance, and the amount, which was reduced, is approximately of EUR 100 a month for a family of four, with an interruption of one month every three months.