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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Long to Return Home

KARABULAG, Ingushetia -- A week after he set off for Chechnya to rebuild his life, Abubakar Sadayev was back in the filthy refugee camp where he had sat for months, his dream of going home shattered.

Same as thousands of others who fled the war in Chechnya, Sadayev's efforts to return fell apart because there was no way to feed his family or keep them safe.

"It is shameful for me that I cannot feed my family, that I cannot provide for them," said Sadayev, a stocky 40-year-old with thinning black hair and deep brown eyes, who had a home in the now-devastated Chechen capital, Grozny.

At Soglasiye Camp, hundreds of men sit idly outside the drab tents lining the muddy paths as women wash clothes and prepare meals over smokey wood fires. Children, many dressed in ragged clothing, run shouting and laughing, making up games without toys.

The camp, one of several in Ingushetia, is home to about 5,000 Chechen refugees. Other camps present the same dismal picture of refugees desperate to go home, but with no way to live if they do.

Chechens fear they could spend months or years in refugee camps, in essence, becoming a people in exile.

"I went to Grozny. There aren't even walls left from my house. ... I have to choose either to die of hunger in Grozny or to try to make ends meet in the camp," Sadayev said.

About 250,000 Chechens fled from the war at the end of last year, and some 200,000 are still in the refugee camps, unable to return home, officials say.

Federal authorities want the refugees to return to Chechnya, insisting conditions are safe and they will be cared for. But refugees who have returned found their homes destroyed, no work and no food in a land torn apart by the war.

Even in the relative safety of the camps, life is difficult. The refugees get food handouts once a day, mostly soup or porridge. Many complain of hunger or stomach problems because of the poor quality of the food.

"We are tired of waiting for the war to end. I am tired of begging for aid every day, of worrying about food for my children," complained Zara Kadiyeva, a mother of three.

The smell of human waste hangs over the camp. Tents are made of rubber or tarpaulin that keep out the rain but make the interiors swelteringly hot. People walking on the narrow paths threading through the tents sink up to their knees in slick, black mud.

The few refugees who have money go to nearby markets to buy food. Most of the refugees have sold their possessions, and now have no money or any way of getting more.

"To feed my family I had to sell everything," said Aslanbek Shalozhy, who had sold his television set and the few other possessions he managed to get out of Chechnya.

A few men found work at nearby farms or businesses but complain that they are forced to accept lower wages than the locals. Most of the men sit in the camp, playing cards, talking or just staring into space.

"All day long, I wander around looking for news. People who come from Chechnya bring it. So the day passes," said Shirvani Zakriyev.

While the men sit and brood, the women are busy all day long, trying to keep their families' tents and clothing clean. Some sit by the road, selling single cigarettes or candies, while others trek into the surrounding hills to gather edible plants.

Chechen men consider it unthinkable to do domestic work, although a few admit quietly they would like to help.

"Women, they have something to do at least f they clean, wash. And I feel like a sponger," Zakriyev said.

Markha Magomadova, 21, dreams of going back to her classes at Grozny University, but fears the capital is too dangerous.

"Here in the tents there is a bed at least. But they feed us with such garbage that even pigs wouldn't eat it," she said.