Russia

Mercy Corps International seks $50,000 to expand Chechen refugee operation

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As the fighting in Chechnya continues, the real victims are the innocent families who have been forced to flee their homes to escape the bombs that have been falling since September. To date up to 260,000 refugees have crossed into the neighboring Republic of Ingushetia, settling primarily in the capital region of Nazran. Despite the temporary cessation of hostilities over the weekend, Russia remains committed to continuing its military campaign, which will likely result in increasing numbers of displaced Chechens.
Once arrived in Ingushetia, there is little assistance available for these families which have fled with only those items they can carry. Currently, only UNHCR, Russian-based EMERCOM, the ICRC, Medicins du Monde/France and Mercy Corps are providing humanitarian relief in Ingushetia. According to the New York Times, "The Ingush government has complained that the refugees lack food, shelter and medicine. Aid from the Russian government, it says, is woefully inadequate and international support is needed." (Nov 5, 1999).

In response to this crisis, Mercy Corps International recently conducted a five-day assessment mission to determine what assistance, if any, it could provide. Their findings are summarized as follows:

The Mercy Corps team noted acute shortages of shelter, shelter repairs (plastic sheeting, flooring and materials for leaking barn and warehouse roofs where people are living) and tents. The majority of refugees, approximately 70-80, are living in abandoned buildings, tents they have set up themselves, or with local host families, rather than in organized refugee camps. In one village surveyed, a minimum of 25 individuals were found to be staying in each home. The critically cramped living conditions and shortages of mattresses, blankets and tent beds is rapidly contributing to the spread of diseases, including skin diseases, colds and flu, lice and possibly tuberculosis (TB). The Mercy Corps team witnessed young children sleeping day after day in barn stalls not more than five feet from cattle and chickens.

In every camp and settlement the team visited, IDPs requested medicine (including vitamins) for their sick, young and elderly. When queried on a ranking of greatest needs, IDPs and authorities agreed that medicines were of paramount concern. Colds and flu were evident throughout the camps, as were topical skin infections.

Food, including baby formula (many women are not lactating due to stress and poor nutrition), is in inadequate supply in many areas or is not available due to prices beyond the reach of the most vulnerable. Areas of heaviest refugee concentration also have serious water and sanitation problems.

Plastic buckets, cooking utensils and hygiene items are desperately sought by the refugees, some of whom have not been able to wash for weeks and have now contracted skin infections, scabies and/or lice.

The Mercy Corps assessment team found that the conditions and numbers of displaced persons in Ingushetia clearly qualify the current crisis as a "humanitarian catastrophe." Based on the critical needs identified, Mercy Corps has launched an emergency relief program in Ingushetia. We have hired three Ingush nationals to manage this program. Mercy Corps is initially focusing on providing assistance to children under 12 who are living in "self-settled" areas and in the smaller tented camps around Nazran. We are distributing baby formula, baby clothing and diapers, blankets, children's medicines and vitamins. Additional items will be purchased and distributed as further needs are identified.

Mercy Corps is requesting $50,000 as seed money for a wider emergency relief operation in Ingushetia. At present, funding from Governments and international organizations is scarce. A gift now can provide vital start-up funds until other resources are secured.

Your support will be used to purchase urgently needed relief supplies including baby formula, baby clothing and diapers, blankets, children's medicines and vitamins. Assistance will be provided to those refugees living in "self-settled" areas (abandoned buildings, small tented areas, and with host families) who are not being served by UN or other relief operations. Mercy Corps has a strong track record of providing humanitarian assistance in places such as Kosovo, Bosnia and Central America - getting critical supplies to those children and families who need it most.

Interested parties or individuals can contact Matthew De Galan, Mercy Corps' Chief Development Officer, for more information at mdegalan@mercycorps.org or call 1-503-796-6800 x 242.

Since its founding in 1979, Mercy Corps has delivered more than $450 million in assistance to more than 65 countries around the world. Over 940f the agency's resources are allocated directly to programs that help the poor. Mercy Corps' programs serve children and families in Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, North Korea, the Philippines, Mongolia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Honduras, Nicaragua and the United States.