Russia

Report on Refugees and Aid Conditions in Chechnya and Ingushetia

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This report was prepared by the People in Need Foundation (PINF) based on information collected by PINF field staff in Chechnya and Ingushetia during the first two weeks of January 2000. PINF is a Prague-based relief agency that worked extensively in both republics during the first Chechen war in 1994-95. It closely cooperates with Epicentrum, a Czech news and features service, whose chief correspondent was reporting inside Chechnya throughout the months of November and December 1999. The report has been made available to ReliefWeb for distribution to other relief agencies as a guide for operating in the region. If you have any questions or want to request additional information, you may contact Michael Luhan or Igor Blazevic at PINF, Tel: (4202) 6113-4401 or 02; E-mail <pinfcz@czech-tv.cz>
1. Refugees and IDPs

Ingushetia

Refugees: The most realistic numbers on refugee flows have been compiled by the local office of UNHCR, which compares numbers from local authorities in Ingushetia with figures provided by the Ingushetian immigration service and various NGOs. At present, UNHCR estimates there are approximately 180,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia, with new arrivals outnumbering returnees by more than 1,000 per day. PINF's information is that the new refugees are mainly from Grozny and its suburbs, and from two valleys under Russian attack - Vedeno and Satoj, and Itum-Kale. In addition, there are up to 40,000 Chechen refugees in Stavropolski kray, Dagestan and Georgia. PINF does not expect dramatic increases in outcoming refugees from Chechnya, while the number of returnees back to Chechnya should pick up quickly in the spring.

The large majority of refugees in Ingushetia are staying in host families, perhaps as many as 150,000. About 25,000 are in camps, most of them in tents and some sheltering in trains and facilities like abandoned dormitories. A third group of 10-20.000 are living in spontaneous settlements (SPS) -- mosques, kindergartens, shops, cafes, garages, warehouses, and very often cow, pig and chicken farms -- with the number of refugees in such places numbering anywhere from 10 to 1,200. Most SPSs are adjacent to towns and villages, with some located in open countryside. Not surprisingly, local authorities, aid workers and media are paying sparse attention to SPSs as compared with the large camps. PINF field staff visited 30 of the 170 - 200 SPSs thought to exist in Ingushetia, and the situation of refugees was found to be far worse compared to those in camps and indoor facilities. SPSs receive fewer supplies than big camps, some have no electricity or gas, children have no access to schools, and the sick have very limited access to health centers or mobile clinics. Refugees in most SPSs feel completely cut off and forgotten.

Shelter: Big camps have army tents for 10-20 people with wood floors and beds with mattresses. Stoves for heat and cooking are available, as well as wood and coal. Many camps have electricity and most have gas with dangerously improvised systems. The camps generally look clean and quite warm. The main problem in camps is water - sources are not enough for such big concentrations of people - and mud, which is everywhere, sometimes 20-25cm deep.

Accommodations with host families are best. Most refugees are staying with relatives or with Ingushetians who offer them shelter free of charge. Some refugees are paying rent, although it is not possible to say how many. Conditions in the majority of SPSs are atrocious, especially in the cow, pig and chicken farms. Very often they are without power and gas and are cold and wet, such as the unfinished buildings on the outskirts of Nazran. At least half of the 30 SPSs visited by PINF were without beds and mattresses, only wooden planks with blankets serving as mattresses. Water is available in most SPSs, but not everywhere.

Food: With support from UNHCR, local authorities in Ingushetia are supplying camps -- and to some extent SPSs -- with bulk food /flour, kasha, sugar, black tea, oil and beans. In well- organized camps refugees receive one hot meal per day and ample bread, and sometimes an additional can of food for breakfasts and late evenings. Most refugees are buying supplementary food in markets. SPSs receive bulk food as well but less often than camps, and have no kitchens. Supplementary foods for children in SPSs is especially urgent. Refugees in host families are getting basic quantities of food through distribution systems controlled by local authorities. PINF heard many complaints from refugees about corruption, inefficiency and unequal distribution by local authorities, and from local Ingushetians and aid agencies as well.

Medical: The three largest camps - Severnyj, Sputnik and Karbulak - have medical clinics operated by Medecins du Monde and which employ local doctors, but there are very visibile shortages of drugs. Medecins du Monde plans to move into Chechnya as soon as conditions permit. The large majority of refugees must seek health care from local clinics, where capacity is insufficient even for Ingushetian inhabitants, and in many locations refugees have no access to health care at all. Again, the worst situation is in SPSs, where people are more isolated and haven't the necessary connections with host families to access doctors.

Schools: Schools are functioning only in the big camps and are organized by the local Education Ministry. School materials are also distributed to Chechen teachers for giving classes in tent camps. Some refugee children with host families are going to local schools.

Chechnya

Information on conditions inside Chechnya is very fragmented, as no foreign aid workers are allowed in and refugees can only provide rough numbers and needs of the population in specific localities, and the situation is very fluid. PINF's assessments were made while making two deliveries of relief aid into Chechnya on 13th and 23rd January. They are based on information collected from IDPs and Chechen officials in the "liberated" Russian-controlled territories, and from the Ingushetian ministry for emergencies (EMERCOM).

Northern Chechnya - Damage in the north is not severe, for several reasons. Russians troops quickly took control of the region at the outset of the current offensive when Chechen rebel forces withdrew from the largely flat and indefensible terrain. Political sentiments in the north are also more pro-Moscow and anti-Grozny. Roughly 90 percent of the population continue to live in their home communities and Russians are controlling the area without major human rights problems being reported.

Central Chechnya - Probably more than half of the refugees who left central Chechnya in late 1999 have returned to the region. Others haven't returned because they believe their homes are destroyed, especially in Argun, Shali, Germecuk, Kurchaloj and Urus-Martan, but there is no solid information about the scale of damages in these places. PINF's information is that in Schali district alone there about about 40.000 IDPs, and in Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk there are another 20.000. IDPs conditions in central Chechnya are much worse than for refugees in Ingushetia, with no humanitarian aid coming in at all and malnutrition growing rapidly. Market prices for a 50kg sack of flour are three times higher than in Ingushetia.

Grozny - Up to 30,000 civilians remain in the city and about 5,000 Chechen rebels. No electricity and little gas. No supplies coming in except what fighters bringing on their backs by a few channels that are still semi-open.

Mountains - Conditions better than in flatlands of central Chechnya, but supplies from the north have been cut for more than two months and from Georgia for three weeks. The high passes into Georgia and Azerbajdjan are extremely difficult to cross during the winter. In recent weeks there have been increasing numbers of refugees descending into central Chechnya and moving on to Ingushetia. There is a real possibility that Russian forces might begin heavy bombing of mountain villages if Grozny falls, but for the moment they are only beginning to move up into some of the mountain valleys.

2. Local authorities, military

Ingushetian authorities welcome aid agencies and are generally quite helpful, but they are also in a difficult situation. On the one hand, Ingushetia is a part of the Russian Federation and has clearly rejected the notion of breaking away a la Chechnya. On the other, Ingushetians have strong ethnic and family ties with the Chechens. PINF's presence in Ingushetia is based on an agreement with EMERCOM, the republic's ministry for emergency situations, which is legally problematic for working in the Russian Federation but practically sufficient under the current circumstances. EMERCOM is distributing food to Chechen refugees in Ingushetia together with the migration service (Migracionaya sluzhba). They are also sending occasional convoys of food and other supplies to Chechnya, mostly the western region which is the targeted area for returning at least some of the refugees from Ingushetia. PINF has excellent relations with EMERCOM based on its previous cooperation in 1995, when PINF made 47 aid deliveries to Chechen hospitals and health centers. EMERCOM is officially responsible for coordinating aid agencies in Ingushetia and should be consulted in advance on aid deliveries and distribution.

Other agencies you need to know about:

  • Foreign police - It is essential for all foreigners to register with them within 24 hours after arrival in Ingushetia.
  • FSB (Federalnya shluzhba bezopasnosti, or Federal Security Service) - The FSB will know about every foreigner who enters Ingushetia sooner or later, but are more concerned with tracking spies and foreign journalist than controlling aid workers.
  • Ministry of Interior - The Department for Special Tasks (SPECNAZ) is charged with ensuring security to all foreigners in Ingushetia. During the past 3-4 years there have been many kidnappings in Ingushetia as well as in Chechnya, so it is worth paying them at least for short-term visits. Their price is about 20 USD per day and 300-400 USD per month.
  • The Russian armed forces and Interior Ministry together form a complicated labyrinth that incorporates military police, the FSB, SOBR, OMON, SPECNAZ, special task forces and other units. You don't need to deal with any of them unless you attempt to enter Chechnya. PINF succeeded in making two runs of aid supplies into Chechnya in January, but arrangements are extremely complicated and hazardous as the Russian forces inside Chechnya consider every foreigner to be enemy.
The northern Caucasus is basically one big police and army scene and agencies should be aware of some general guidelines. If caught entering Chechnya without authorization, you can be escorted to the Russian HQ for Chechnya at Mozdok and then sent to Moscow for expulsion from the country.

3. Aid Operations

EMERCOM is doing quite a good job of distributing food to refugees in Ingushetia that is purchased with Russian federal funds or provided by UNHCR. In addition to food, UNHCR is also providing blankets and tents and registering/monitoring IDPs. The Danish Refugee Council is the lead international NGO in Ingushetia, charged with distributing winter clothing and boots and in some cases food to Ingushetian families that are hosting refugees. ICRC is providing aid parcels to the big camps and to some SPSs, but as far as PINF could ascertain, only occasionally. Medicins du Monde is operating clinics with local doctors in three main refugee camps and planning to enter Chechnya as soon as possible. Medecins sans Frontieres is also present. UNICEF has recently established an office and is organizing winter tents and supplies for improvised schools, but is having serious problems with the customs office in Vladikavkaz. Action Against Hunger and the Salvation Army have also just arrived and are planning to start projects soon. World Food Program should soon begin large-scale deliveries of basic food items like flour, oil, rice and beans.

At the moment, with the exception of EMERCOM, Russian Red Cross and Humanitarian Fund of Lebed, PINF believes it is the only international agency making aid deliveries into Chechnya.

4. Needs

Ingushetia: Basic foods are more or less covered but there are shortages of meat and vegetables. There are only limited quantities available of flour, beans, sugar, salt and tea. Supplementary foods for children are desperately needed, ie. baby formula, dry milk powder, pureJd vegetables, fruits, marmalade, biscuits etc. Other main needs are winter clothing, long underwear and mattresses, as well as school and recreational materials for children. Health care, basic medicines and hygienic supplies are scarce everywhere.

Chechnya: Virtually the only foodstuffs available to Chechens in the central and southern regions are flour, sugar, pasta and oil. Anything else like like tinned foods, margarine, baby food is almost a miracle for them. For example, when a PINF convoy reached Alkhan-Jurt on 24th January with 18 tonnes of flour, sugar and pasta, locals residents literally cried, saying the last aid arrived three months ago. This was much the same situation in 1995, when many communities in Chechnya were cut off from all outside aid for months. Hygienic supplies are also a disaster - in a train near Sernovodsk, PINF found that the 2.000 IDPs had only received enough soap during last month to give half a bar to each family. There are three rules for supplying Chechnya right now: quantity, quantity and quantity.

5. Access to Supplies / Prices

Almost every kind of basic aid supplies can be bought in Ingushetia or imported within days by wholesalers. Since all routes into the northern Caucasus are full of checkpoints controlled by military, police and criminal gangs, it is much better simply to purchase aid supplies in Ingushetia than to attempt bringing them in by convoy. Prices are generally the same or lower than in Europe, examples: 1 tonne flour - 180 USD, 1 tonne sugar - 270 USD, 1 tonne dry milk powder - 1200 USD, 1 liter oil - 0.5 USD, 1 kg apples - 0.25 USD, etc. However, there are shortages of medicines and difficulties in purchasing large quantities of clothing, boots and a few other commodities. But if necessary, these can be purchased on order and delivered to Ingushetia within days from other regions.

6. Customs

The Ingushetian Customs operation in Nazran has been closed by Russian federal authorities, so at present there are only two possibilities for clearing aid deliveries into Ingushetia: through Vladikavkaz, the capital of Ossetia, or through Stavropol. However, all agencies are advised that the strictest possible control mechanisms are needed for goods brought in through Russian and Ossetian authorities in order to prevent confiscation and misuse.

7. Logistical Issues

Transportation is not a problem in Ingushetia, as personal cars, small vans, buses and trucks are available for rent with drivers. Ample warehousing space is also available, as the economic crisis in Ingushetia has forced many factories to close which can be rented for storing supplies. At present, access to Chechnya is only permitted for military and EMERCOM vehicles.

8. Access for Foreigners, Security Issues

Without local contacts or accreditation from aid agencies that are registered with the authorities, foreigners in Ingushetia will have problems with the FSB and Ministry for Interior. It is possible to deal with Ingushetian authorities, but Russians generally view NGOs as aliens who want to help their Chechen enemies and thus are always suspicious. Security has improved in the past year, during which most of the Chechen criminal gangs have been run out of the region and the border with Chechnya closed. But there is still some level of risk to be kidnapped. The best way to lower this risk is to avoid advertising yourself as a wealthy foreigner. Wear simple cloths with dark colors, don't visibily carry cameras, and behave modestly. Foreigners who don't want to pay for protection by state security (Ingushetian SPECNAZ) are well advised to hire a local driver with his own car and who carries a gun with him at all times.

9. Accommodation, Eating, Communications

There is only one hotel in Nazran, the Asa, where prices are around 15 USD per night but which is full of FSB people. For short visitations it's OK but for longer periods it's better to find private accommodations with a local family, which run about 400 USD per month for 2 people in one room. Food in cheaper restaurants is about 3 USD per meal and generally bad. It's much better to eat in the Asa or in more expensive restaurants, or make a deal with locals to cook for you.

Rental of personal cars with drivers runs from 100 USD per day for journalists to 1000 USD per month for aid agencies.

Electricity and water in Nazran are generally OK and only go out for a few hours, but communications are a problem. There are almost no international lines available, and when they are, there are long lines at the telecommuncations office. A satellite phone is therefore advisable.

You can photograph and film anything connected with humanitarian aid work in Ingushetia without permission. But don't try it around town or at military checkpoints without special accreditation from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, but an aid worker who applies for one will be considered a spy, so it's not advisable. Taking cameras into Chechnya is strictly forbidden. Exceptions to that rule are complicated but sometimes possible for aid agencies that are established and well known to the authorities in Ingushetia.

10. PINF Operations in Ingushetia and Chechnya

Ingushetia - PINF is currently supplying SPSs in four locations with supplementary foods, school materials, basic medical care and special needs for the approximately 3,000 children living in them. PINF estimates there are an additional 6-7.000 children in other SPSs but does not have the resources to provide for them. In addition to food, medical care and schooling materials, these SPSs need winter clothing and supplementary foods for children under 6 months.

Chechnya - PINF was the only foreign agency to take convoys into Chechnya during the past 4-5 months, delivering 36 tonnes of bulk food supplies, and is planning additional convoys soon. But its financial sources are limited, and PINF is very open to arranging joint shipments with other agencies. A channel is now more or less working but it is essential to keep it busy with shipments.