Chechen refugees skeptical about return

Report
from United Nations Association of Georgia
Published on 12 Jun 2003
Despite Russian authorities' vows to provide security guarantees to Chechen returnees, refugees living in Georgia's Pankisi gorge prefer to stay in the gorge, fearing that recent statements of the Russian officials on improved security situation are mere propaganda.

On June 10 Deputy Minister of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation Yuri Brazhnikov met with part of Chechens, living in Duisi village of Pankisi. The official tried in vain to convince his fellow citizens that they can safely return home.

"Anyone of you has the opportunity to return to your homeland. We will assist in this together with the Georgian side. I assure you that this process will develop peacefully. We have already elaborated the mechanism of your return," Brazhnikov told the refugees.

Russian Emergency and Interior ministries dispatched 6-member delegation, created under President Putin's direct order, to work on the issues of repatriation of the Chechen refugees, living in Georgia. The delegation arrived to Tbilisi on June 9 and discussed plans of return of the refugees with the Georgian colleagues.

"We are ready to participate in the process actively, assist every refugee, who wishes to return and facilitate their safe and peaceful repatriation," Deputy Interior Minister of Georgia David Todua told Civil Georgia.

"We have been working on these issues together for more than a year. We have agreed that the Georgian side will provide assistance in transportation. Namely, every refugee who will be willing to return to Chechnya will be transported to Tbilisi on buses and then flown to Russia. They will be also able to travel by their own means of transportation. In such cases these refugees will be issued special documents, which would allow them to cross the border freely," Yuri Brazhnikov told Civil Georgia.

He gave firm guarantees that Chechens will be able to leave in peaceful environment. "Terrorist acts still do take place in Chechnya, but not a single country is protected from such acts. However, I would say that situation there is normal at present," Brazhnikov said.

He added that there are several thousand apartments in Grozny, which could accommodate the returned refugees. The Russian side also says they will give jobs to those who wish to return.

The delegation members spoke about the law on amnesty, adopted by the Russian State Duma, which pardons Chechen prisoners, who were not directly involved in military operations.

But most of the refugees stay skeptical. "We need firm guarantees that our children will live in safe and peaceful environment and will not find themselves in 'filtration camps'. Our primary demand is withdrawal of the Russian army from the Republic of Chechnya," said Aslanbeg Abdurzakaev, Chechen refugee in Pankisi gorge.

"We don't believe in the referendum held there [in Chechnya]. We know the results and watch the current events and therefore deeply doubt that we will be able to live in our homeland normally," Abdurzakaev told Brazhnikov.

"I want to return to my homeland but I do not know how I will live there. Proposals made here sound very nice, but I am not sure that they will be fulfilled," Chechen refugee Khanbek told Civil Georgia. "Regrettably, we feel more secure here than in our land despite all the hardship. Therefore it's too early for us to think about returning to Chechnya," he added.

Meeting in Duisi ended without any specific agreement. However, the Russian delegation members said that they would continue working on return of the refugees, and will bring humanitarian assistance to the gorge in the meantime.

According to current data, there are up to 4.000 Chechen refugees in Georgia. Next registration of the refugees will start in late June.

By Tea Gularidze, Civil Georgia

United Nations Association of Georgia:
© UNA-Georgia