Moscow/New York August 11, 2003 - Chechen civilians continue to face increasing pressure to leave Bella camp, a displaced persons tented settlement that is gradually being emptied in Sleptovskaia, Ingushetia, a Republic of the Russian Federation. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) witnessed today that only 930 people remain in the camp. Statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that 3,200 people were living there in January and 1,430 at the end of July.
More than 200 people were pressured out of the camps without prior notice in the last 3 days, and are now living in 45 of the 180 shelters built by MSF to give to people who chose to stay in Ingushetia an alternative to returning to Chechnya. This is only the most recent alarming example of the constant psychological pressure exerted on displaced civilians to go back to war-torn Chechnya. Even though these circumstances are unacceptable for the people pressured to leave Bella camp, MSF logisticians will ensure that the newly occupied shelters will be connected to the gas and electricity networks.
In March 2003, Ingush authorities said that the 180 alternative shelters built by MSF, as well as 1,020 MSF planned to build by the end of 2003, were illegal even though MSF had obtained all necessary official authorizations. As a result, the most vulnerable families were not allowed to live in the new shelters, and construction on the additional 1,020 was stalled. As of today, 135 of the pre-existing shelters remain empty.
A February 2003 survey conducted by MSF showed that more than 90% of the Chechen people living in such tent camps in Ingushetia did not want to return to Chechnya because they feared for their lives. Even so, Russian, Ingush and Chechen authorities have used a wide range of means in the past months to implement a policy of forced repatriation.
Confronted by the emptying of Bella camp as well as several statements made by Russian, Ingush, and Chechen authorities in the past months about the imminent closure of all tented camps in Ingushetia, MSF demands that authorities respect displaced peoples' basic right not to be forced back to war-torn Chechnya. MSF also insist that the authorities live up to their responsibilities to assure that displaced persons who choose to exercise their right to stay in Ingushetia be adequately assisted and protected either in tented camps or in the unoccupied alternative shelters, and that they lift administrative restrictions blocking the planned construction of additional shelters.