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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Seeks $34M for Chechen Refugees

United Nations officials expressed strong concern Tuesday over Russian intentions to close camps for Chechen refugees and appealed to international donors for $33.7 million to help civilians in Chechnya and Ingushetia next year.

Russian officials this summer announced plans to close camps in Ingushetia that house Chechens who have fled fighting in Chechnya. Although officials have said none of the refugees will be forced to return home, there is wide worry that they will be pressured to go back to bolster the Kremlin's contention that life in Chechnya is improving.

Jozsef Gyorke, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Russia, told a news conference that Russian authorities had balked at authorizing the replacement of tents in refugee camps in Ingushetia.

"The Russian authorities are reluctant to issue the permission because they want to close the tent camps before the end of the year," Gyorke said. He said that the deployment of Russian troops next to refugee camps in Ingushetia following last month's hostage-taking raid in Moscow by Chechen gunmen had raised the pressure on refugees.

UNICEF's coordinator for Russia, Rosemary McCreery, said that the issue of the refugees' voluntary return remained the focus for UN discussions with the Russian authorities.

"The main priority of the United Nations' operations is to ensure that those people are able to remain in Ingushetia or to seek a safe haven in other parts of Russia," McCreery said.

She added that a UN survey of the refugees who have moved to temporary accommodation centers in Grozny showed that they were living in "grossly inadequate" conditions.

McCreery noted "persistent" poverty in the region, with the average income in both Chechnya and Ingushetia below the national subsistence level of about $50 per person per month.

The $33.7 million UN appeal, if fully met, would provide assistance to about 1 million residents and 250,000 displaced persons in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Food supplies would account for about half the total amount to be collected under the UN appeals. Other assistance sectors include civil rights and security, water and sanitation, education and de-mining.

McCreery said that the aid program was proceeding amid dicey security. Two Russian drivers for the International Committee of the Red Cross were abducted last week and released Sunday.