Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Refugees Not in Crisis




Since Russian forces began anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya, the outflow of Chechen citizens into neighboring territories has reached approximately 230,000. Up to 95 percent of these refugees have settled in Ingushetia. Others have gone to Dagestan, North Ossetia and the Stavropol region. International observers have expressed concern about the situation, and late last month, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a delegation to inspect conditions in Ingushetia.


I went with that delegation on their mission. It was headed up by the Norwegian ambassador, Kim Traavik, and its mandate was to study local issues regarding the humanitarian situation of the refugees.


Ambassador Traavik and those accompanying him were given full freedom to visit camps of "forced" and "temporary" refugees, to enter at will any of the tents or railroad cars where refugees live. The refugees living in these conditions only account for 10 percent of those who fled to Ingushetia - the rest have found shelter in private homes. The delegation also visited Kavkaz 1, the main checkpoint on the Ingush-Chechen administrative border, to talk with refugees leaving Chechnya and hear firsthand their concerns.


The situation in the tent camps of Karabulak and Sputnik, as well as in shelters comprised of train cars, was certainly far from luxurious. The delegation, however, established that the community was free from hunger and health epidemics.


All refugees received food, heat, water, electricity, medicines and medical help to the tune of 35 rubles a day from the federal budget. The tents were warm, even though the thermometer showed temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius while we were there. The heat was not as good in the railroad wagons and many of the people living in them didn't have sufficiently warm clothes while many of the tents, in fact, even had carpets.


There were two fundamental requests among the people who had come to Ingushetia: The first was the request for more humanitarian aid. Others, however, said they didn't want any humanitarian aid at all. They just wanted to go home sooner.


We also met with several people who were clearly dramatizing their situation and told all manner of tall tales about what they had been through and what they had seen. These people obviously hoped that their dark stories would end up on television and the radio. Propagandists such as this were usually well-dressed women known by the other refugees as "Ichkeri Wolves," in reference to the name by which Chechen secessionists call their republic. The commentary of these women was geared to a specific purpose - to drum up as much passion as possible among the refugees and keep them outside of Chechnya as long as possible in order to call forth a stream of criticism toward Russia from other countries.


Objectively, the life of these refugees is difficult for now. But I can also say objectively, and firsthand, that there is no so-called humanitarian catastrophe in evidence there. And it is unlikely that the situation in the Caucasus will ever reach those proportions.


The leaders of the various Caucasian republics bordering Chechnya and the Russian federal authorities are taking great pains and applying great effort to make sure the fate of these refugees is decided in a positive and timely manner.


On Nov. 17, the government issued a decree dictating that extra measures in terms of both the distribution and supply of humanitarian aid be undertaken for the refugees. This decree included boosting the shipments of food and medicines to about 280 million rubles worth. The Railway Ministry also set aside another 100 railway cars to shelter displaced Chechens.


Added to this Russian federal support are a host of international and regional aid organizations who are lending a hand. Among them are the UN , the European Union, the OSCE itself. These groups account for about four percent of all the aid flowing to the refugees, and this will likely increase.


Moscow will do nothing to hamper the distribution of this international aid. In fact, it is being facilitated by the Emergency Situations Ministry and the Federal Migration Service.


In this light, appeals from the defense ministers of NATO earlier this month urging Russia to accept assistance in the delivery of humanitarian aid sound strange here in Moscow. Moscow has never hindered this process.


The only part of the Chechen conflict that has any international resonance is the humanitarian question in Ingushetia. This has nothing to do with the question of regulating the situation in Chechnya, whose government embarked on a path of separatism and terrorism. The political aspect of the conflict is the internal business of Russia, which is defending its own territorial integrity.


The best solution for the refugees is to allow them to return home, and many were doing just that when our delegation visited Ingushetia. According to an announcement by Nikolai Koshman, the official representative of the Russian Government in Chechnya, Chechen citizens in the tents and railroad car camps will be returned to their homes by Christmas. The rest, according to Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, will be home by February.


All of this inspires the hope that the refugees will return to health and calm and that the long-awaited peace and stability will finally settle on Chechnya.


Vladmir Kozin is a senior adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' European Cooperation Department. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times. The views it expresses are not necessarily those of the foreign ministry.