Moscow still fails to allay Chechens' fears

Report
from United Nations Association of Georgia
Published on 02 Oct 2003
The Russian plane, which arrived in Tbilisi on September 29 to repatriate Chechen refugees willing to return to Chechnya, left Georgia with none of Chechens on the board. Russian authorities' second try to convince refugees living in Georgia's Pankisi gorge since 1999, to return to the war-torn Chechnya failed again.

Russian delegation, led by Stanislav Iliasov, the Minister for Chechen Affairs and Yuri Brazhnekov, the Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations visited Georgia on September 29-October 1.

Delegation visited Pankisi gorge, where according to the official data up to 3,700 Chechen refugees are living, on September 30.

"We offer them various kinds of assistance. Those who decide to return, will be provided with transport and money to repair their houses, or 350 000 Russian rubles [up to USD 12,000] to build new ones, to those who's houses were destroyed. We also will assist in solving other social issues as well, like unemployment," Yuri Brazhnikov, the Russian Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations told Civil Georgia.

The outdoor meeting with the refugees lasted for 2 hours. However Russia's promise of better future and financial assistance is not enough for the Chechens. Moreover they even refused to accept 20 tone of humanitarian aid, brought in Georgia by the Russian delegation.

"Although we live in hardship and almost starve, because the UNHCR is the only organization which assists us, and the Russian's aid would be great relief, we simply do not want anything from them [Russians]. Where were they before, during these four years?" Aslanbeg Aburzakov, Chechen refugee told Civil Georgia.

"Our only dream is to return to the homeland. But we do not trust Russians, because they kill Chechens without mercy. Russian army is still in our homeland and the war still goes on. We refuse to go back until the Russians are there. We still remember the horror of war," Chechen refugee Elza Varakhaeva, who lives in Pankisi gorge since 1999, told Civil Georgia.

"We brought warm clothes and food for the children and adults. We wanted to provide aid [to the refugees] before too, but could not do so because of the criminal situation in Pankisi. But after the anti-crime operation in Pankisi [held by the Georgian law enforcers last year], the situation has improved and now we are able to visit them and help every refugee," Russian Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations said.

"We only want Russians to uphold the security norms. Despite their assurances, we know that there is not peace in Chechnya. People still get killed with landmines. Although we are having quite hard time here [in Pankisi], at least we live in peace," Musa Kabragieli refugee from Grozny said.

This was the Russian delegation's second visit in Pankisi Gorge. Russian Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations Yuri Brazhnekov already visited Pankisi Gorge in June and tried in vain to convince the Chechen refugees to return.

This time the delegation was accompanied by the representatives of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration.

"It was decided that we will stay here for two more days, create a special group, in which the refugees could also participate, to discuss and work over the current problems together. The commission will keep functioning after we leave as well," Edilberg Uzuev, representative of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration told Civil Georgia.

Georgian authorities are interested in the Chechens' repatriation, as refugees in Pankisi are perceived as one of the threats to the shaky stability in the troubled gorge. Hundreds of Chechen militants found shelter in Pankisi from 1999-2002; they infiltrated the region with the Chechen refugees,. Georgian troops are still deployed in the gorge to maintain order.

"Indeed we do assist Russians to conduct the process peacefully and successfully. Chechens should return to their homeland one day. But the repatriation should take place on the voluntary basis," Georgian Deputy Interior Minister David Todua told reporters.

Many Chechens have already left Georgia and moved back to Chechnya, or left for third country, as their number almost halved after 1999, when up to 7,000 Chechens fled from the second war in Chechnya.

United Nations Association of Georgia:
© UNA-Georgia