Refugees refuse to return to war-torn Chechnya
KARABULAK, Russia, May 8 (AFP) - Aid is dwindling, new arrivals are no longer registered, Moscow is pushing them to leave but Chechen refugees in neighbouring Ingushetia refuse to go back until the war in their homeland ends.
A Chechen woman carries buckets of water at a refugee camp near the Ingush village of Karabulak 31 January 2000. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is visiting Moscow, urged Russia to seek a political end to its war in Chechnya during talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
In the Karabulak camp, where some 5,000 people live on the border with Chechnya, a crowd of refugees jostled around a truck to get their monthly ration of two tins of concentrated milk and corned-beef.
A few days ago, they received a handout of 900 grammes (two pounds) of pasta and buckwheat per person but supplies of cooking oil, sugar and salt have run out.
Ruslan Dzhabrailov, the number two administrator at the camp, dreads the days he has to supervise the distribution of aid.
"People scream. Once I fell unconscious. I got a heart condition working here," he said. Visibly disheartened, he knows the situation is not about to improve.
Since May 1 charities have been barred by Moscow from handing out any humanitarian assistance in the camps in Ingushetia, where some 30,000 out of 150,000 refugees in the tiny Russian republic have taken shelter.
The figure of 150,000 is the last available one since April 1, when Moscow stopped registering newly arrived refugees. The Ingush authorities estimate some 20,000 Chechens have crossed the border since then.
Charities have been told to direct their aid towards refugees living with host families or lodged in empty buildings while the Russian and Ingush authorities are supposed to take over in the camps.
"We are afraid that the refugees in the camps will get even less calories than before," said Jean Tissot from the Danish Refugee Council.
"The Ingush are under pressure from the Russians to get the refugees to return home. These pressures could lead to forced repatriations," he warned.
In Karabulak camp, the Russian authorities made much fanfare about the return to Chechnya of two groups of dozens of refugees in April.
An elderly Chechen woman trying to sell sunflower seeds sitting next to a tent in the Karabulack refugee camp in Ingushetia, 09 February 2000. Russian warplanes and helicopters conducted some 200 bombing missions 09 February 2000 to pound Chechen rebel positions in the mountainous south of Chechnya.
Moscow is anxious to show normality is returning to the conflict-torn republic, where guerrilla ambushes are a daily reality more than 19 months since Russia invaded the secessionist territory.
"Some of Kadyrov's people (the pro-Russian chief administrator of Chechnya) came here. They promised the refugees work, free lodging, paradise on earth," recounted Ruslan Dzhabrailov.
The rumour is that several of these families quickly returned to Ingushetia, frightened by the lawless situation in Chechnya. But there is no question of getting somewhere to live at the camp, where they have been wiped off the list.
In this tent city which provided a haven for the first refugees to escape from the war which erupted on October 1, 1999, there are no more hot meals distributed because of lack of funds from Moscow, the sports centre is still on the drawing-board and drugs are circulating.
The few toilets are in a dilapidated condition, children play in puddles and most of the woman wear rubber shoes because of the squelching mud underfoot.
But none of the displaced people want to return to Chechnya despite aimless boredom and total lack of privacy because their fear is too strong.
"The war is not over. In Grozny, people can die from a simple appendicitis as no one dares to venture outside after 6:00 pm (during curfew). Only the federal troops have rights, including to kill us," said Amina, a teacher.
"I went back to Grozny to see my parents. At night you keep away from the windows, you jump at your own shadow. For young women, it is as dangerous as for men. There are many Budanovs" in Chechnya, she added.
The family of Elza Kungayeva, who was led away in front of her brothers and sisters into custody before being killed by Russian colonel Yury Budanov, now on trial for murder, took refuge in Karabulak.
"Our children have been traumatised. They have become introverted and find it hard to study. They do not want to go back to Chechnya," explained Elza's mother, ill and visibly exhausted.
Topics: Moscow, Russia