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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MSF: Refugee Crisis Looms in Ingushetia

The federal government is precipitating a humanitarian catastrophe in Ingushetia, the effects of which may become apparent as early as this summer, Medicines Sans Frontiers said.

MSF has constructed 18 houses in Ingushetia with room for 1,000 Chechen refugees, but the buildings are standing empty because local prosecutors say they do not conform to building regulations. MSF last week gave reporters copies of a document from a local prosecutor's office ordering that the buildings be demolished.

This means that if the refugee camps are closed as pro-Moscow Chechen officials have promised, thousands of refugees will essentially be forced back into a conflict zone in violation of the Geneva convention on human rights, MSF officials said.

"Forced return is a clear violation of fundamental rights of civilians subject to violence," Anne Fouchard, director of communications for MSF France, told reporters last week.

According to an MSF survey conducted among 17,000 refugees in March and April, 98 percent said they were afraid to go back to Chechnya despite government claims that the situation in the republic has stabilized.

The MSF said the refugees must be provided with shelter within Ingushetia if their rights are to be protected.

Gelani Merzhuyev, the prosecutor who signed the order to demolish the buildings, said the accommodations that MSF built could not be called houses. "I don't know what to call them, people can't live there," he said by telephone from Stantsiya Ordzhonikidzevskaya.

Ingush presidential spokesman Isa Mirzhoyev defended the decision. "They have to operate by the same rules as everybody else in this country, and building structures like pirates without coordinating with the government is unacceptable," he said.

MSF officials said they have worked closely with the Federal Migration Service and Ingush authorities on all construction projects in Ingushetia.

"We had to get personal approval from the [Ingush] prime minister to build one latrine recently," said Gabriel Trujillo, head of MSF France's mission in Russia.

If plans by MSF and other international humanitarian organizations to build housing for the estimated 14,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia are not approved soon, the refugees could find themselves without a roof over their heads when the camps are closed down -- leaving them with no choice but to go back to Chechnya, the MSF said. Rumors have been circulating in the camps that the tents will be pulled down by the end of May.

Ingush President Murat Zyazikov promised the MSF that a special committee would be created to deal with the issue of creating temporary accommodation inside Ingushetia a month ago, but nothing has been done yet and time is running out, Trujillo said.

"Even if we got approval to build the rest of the 300 houses today, they would only be ready by June 6, and that's too late," Trujillo said.

Mirzhoyev said he had not heard of plans to create a committee to deal with the issue.