October 02, 2003

Nazran/Moscow, October 3, 2003 - On Wednesday, October 1, authorities in Ingushetia closed Bela Camp, which housed up to 3,500 displaced Chechens, according to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This is only the most recent step authorities have taken in implementing a strategy of closing down camps for displaced people in Ingushetia, a Russian Republic neighboring Chechnya.

Most of the final 168 families living in the camp in the Russian Republic were relocated over the past week to tents provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Satsita Camp. The displaced families are able to stay in Ingushetia and not return to Chechnya, where a climate of extreme violence, abductions, assassination, torture, and "cleansing" operations persists. Unfortunately, at least an equal number of families left the camp before September under constant pressure from authorities. They were given no alternative except to return to Chechnya, and no one is able to say precisely where these families have gone.

The night before Bela Camp was closed, families squatting in Logovaz and Oushkoz, spontaneous settlements called kompakniki in Russian, were threatened with expulsion. That same day, the military conducted a new "cleansing" operation in the MTF-Karabulak camp. One hundred soldiers surrounded the camp to "check papers". Two men were arrested and detained until that night. The following morning, nearly thirty masked men returned to the camp and arrested another man. Such operations are becoming everyday occurrences in the neighborhoods outside Ingushetia's capital Nazran.

During the same period, access to the camps for humanitarian aid workers has been severely limited. Entry is prohibited without special authorization, and officials cite insecurity and warnings of kidnapping for the restrictions.

Providing alternative shelters to people who are forced out of displaced-person settlements in Ingushetia should be done in all instances when people do not want to return to war-ravaged Chechnya. The relocation of displaced families from Bela Camp clearly shows it is possible to rapidly provide alternative housing to people who choose not to return to Chechnya, and each expelled family should receive concrete offers of housing in Ingushetia. MSF is ready to resume construction of temporary shelters as soon as promised authorizations are given.