Russia

Russia: Humanitarian aid for the victims of the Chechnya conflict

Format
Situation Report
Source
Posted
Originally published
Amount of decision: 16,500,000 euro

Decision reference number: ECHO/RUS/BUD/2004/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. - Rationale:

Nearly five years after the beginning of the second conflict in Chechnya, in autumn 1999, the situation has all but normalised and there is no peace in sight. Regular fighting, with artillery shelling of villages and populated areas, goes on in the South of Chechnya, while a low-intensity conflict goes on in the rest of the republic, with continued losses on each side and a targeting of the civilian population. Insecurity reigns, including in Grozny.

In Chechnya, the conditions of living for the population continue to be abysmal, particularly in Grozny, a city in rubbles which hosts an estimated 100,000 people. Very little reconstruction is going on, and it concerns only public buildings (administration, Oil Institute, etc) and some infrastructure work, as well as temporary centers designed to host returnees. A number of private houses have undergone minor rehabilitation thanks to international organisations, but no apartment building is being reconstructed. People therefore live in dangerous remnants of buildings with no running water and continue to depend on State allowances, humanitarian aid and indebtedness for their daily life, in a context where job opportunities are scarce. A large part of the federal funds allocated to the reconstruction of Chechnya (22 billion rubles in 2003, i.e. €650 million) are said to have disappeared into embezzlement.(1) The budget foreseen for 2004 is around €1 billion.

In spite of the difficult environment, a significant number of people has returned to Chechnya (16,170 in 2003 according to UNHCR), voluntarily or pushed by the closure of camps and the various pressures/promises they have been subject to in Ingushetia. Hundreds of them have been accommodated in some of the 29 Temporary Accommodation Centres (TACs) whose poor facilities (no water, toilets outside, no showers) have led to an alarmingly high rate of tuberculosis, according to humanitarian organisations. There is currently no more space available in these TACs, who host 28,500 IDPs and are overcrowded, which means that if people have no other choice but to return to Chechnya, they will have to rent one of the very few rooms available in the private sector.

There are still, according to UNHCR, 68,000 people displaced in neighbouring Ingushetia (some NGOs say the figure is higher) as well as 10,000 in Daghestan (ICRC sources), which the international community strives to protect and assist. However, the situation has deteriorated significantly during the last months, with a combination of different types of pressure put on IDPs to leave Ingushetia and return to Chechnya. Pressure, in certain cases, has been violent - on 6 March, fourteen armoured vehicles surrounded Satsita camp early in the morning, and federal soldiers as well as Chechen law-enforcement units carried out a reportedly brutal search and document check of IDPs in tents. This was interpreted by UNHCR and ECHO's local protection partner (Vesta) as a means of intimidation designed to increase pressure on the residents of this camp. The main organization working in the camp since its creation, the Saudi Red Crescent, was coincidentally not renewed its registration and has now ceased all its activities in Satsita.

The Presidential Commission on Human Rights, headed by Ms Pamfillova, fled to Ingushetia in order to investigate the incident. She had already visited Ingushetia early February and voiced its concerns over the level of psychological pressure exerted on IDPs at the moment and the absence of decent shelter conditions offered to people either in Ingushetia or in Chechnya.

The closure of two camps last October and December, as well as the closure of another one by 1st March, to be followed by the closure of the two remaining ones, which still host between 5,000 and 6,000 IDPs, is the most visible part of the official plan on return. Former camp commandants have all been sent on long holidays at the end of last year and replaced by more obedient people. While closing the camps, authorities have, until the end of February, obstructed efforts by the international community to build alternative shelter in Ingushetia and have instructed NGOs to dismantle rooms which had been built with ECHO funds(2). In this context, despite official assurances that return was exclusively voluntary, the international community had deep concerns about the absence of alternatives given to IDPs in Ingushetia. The EU and the US undertook a joint demarche, last 9th February, to voice their concerns to the federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After this demarche and the visit of Mr Egeland, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, there was a small opening in the end of February. After refusing for more than a year to allow IDPs to move into the 180 ECHO-funded rooms built by MSF, Ingush authorities suddenly changed their position and, on 22 February, instructed MSF to prepare 140 rooms for immediate use. In parallel, however, NGOs do not currently get authorizations to build other alternative shelter. Therefore, NGOs are now concentrating on rehabilitating existing, poor-quality shelter, rather than building new one.

When interviewed, IDPs state as their main reason for not wanting to return to Chechnya the lack of security and their fear of disappearances. Violations of international humanitarian law and human rights continue unabated in Chechnya, with civilians abducted by masked men in military clothes. Tortures, arbitrary detentions, extortions, thefts, beatings continue to be reported by reliable human rights organisations. The well-known Russian NGO "Memorial", which carries out its monitoring in only 5 out of 17 districts in Chechnya, reports 477 cases of kidnappings for 2003 and says that due to its limited monitoring, the figure could be 3 to 4 times higher. In a press release published on 2 February 2004, the ICRC, whose Chechen employee abducted last August is still missing, recalled that the abduction of civilians is prohibited under international humanitarian law and voiced its "deep concern about the safety of the civilian population in Chechnya"(3).

The absence of a perspective for peace and development in Chechnya and the pressure on IDPs to leave Ingushetia have created an environment such that many people see emigration to Europe as their last resort, despite all difficulties.

Notes:

(1) A federal investigation commission confirmed these allegations last year.

(2) OCHA received a letter from the Ingush Government on 5th February asking them to help dismantle these rooms.

(3) For other reports on human rights violations, see also Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Helsinki Federation, Organisation mondiale contre la torture, Council of Europe.