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Chechen Refugees Facing Different Fear

Published: January 31, 2003 (Issue # 839)



  • Chechen refugees in Ingushetia say that they are being put under pressure to return to the still war-torn republic.
    Photo: Sergey Grachev / The St. Petersburg Times

SLEPTSOVSKAYA, Ingushetia - A year after fleeing Chechnya to get away from marauding men with guns, Khava Saltamatova now fears different men - the ones who come to her tent in a refugee camp with promises of help.

"They come from door to door and say, 'We already have trucks to take you back whenever you're ready,'" Saltamatova said. "They say there are new apartments waiting for us in Chechnya."

And the men, whom she refers to only as "they," say something else that sounds both generous and ominous "There will be assistance for 2,000 of us." About 4,000 people live in her camp, and the implication is that those who wait too long will be left with nothing.

Promises that sound like threats are the latest phase in Russia's efforts to get refugees in Ingushetia to go home, even as the fighting in Chechnya continues.

More than 100,000 refugees are estimated to be in Ingushetia - the equivalent of about 25 percent of the republic's native population - and their massive presence and sprawling tent camps are a visible reminder of Russia's failure to end the war in Chechnya.

Last year, officials closed down one camp and refugees said soldiers fired volleys outside another.

Apparently stung by criticism, Russia has backed off from such methods, and has promised no one will be forced back to Chechnya, say refugees and human-rights officials. But Russian and Ingush authorities have not disavowed a statement last year that the camps will be closed, and the Kremlin is clearly eager to have as many as possible back by March 23, the date for a constitutional referendum portrayed as a major step toward restoring order and undermining the Chechen rebels.

"Now, the government is being more sophisticated, more professional," said Aslanbek Dakhkilgov, an official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ingushetia who monitors conditions in the camp.

Some of the men making the promises that Saltamatova and other refugees worry about emphasize professionalism, making their pitch sound like a job recruiter urging someone up the career ladder, a potentially powerful inducement for a man crushed by the endless tedium of refugee life.

"We tell them that job placement is guaranteed," said Vakha Naliyev of the Ingush Migration Service, who works in a camp just up the road from Sputnik. "There are no kind of threats ... We propose that they return."

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Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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