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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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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