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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

Tuesday, Sept. 16


Lenexpo plays host to Tekhnodrev, a three-day convention that focuses on the woodworking industry in Russia. Promoting the latest technologies and trends, the event features not only exhibitors from some of Russia’s largest woodworking companies but representatives of the forestry industry, who will have their own coinciding forum.


Parlez-vous français? We don’t here at The St. Petersburg Times but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Join the British Book Center’s French Club meeting this evening at 6 p.m. in their location near Technologichesky Institut metro station.



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