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Hundreds Die of Cold in Moscow; MSF Raising Awareness of Their Plight
January 15, 2002
For many of Moscow's burgeoning homeless population, the streets have become a final resting place. Since winter began, almost 300 people have succumbed to the freezing temperatures gripping the region.
In response to the problem, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recently launched a public awareness campaign, blanketing the subways with posters asking Muscovites the simple question: "Could you survive without a home?" The campaign hopes to remind people that behind the word "Bomzh"—the derogatory term used to refer to the homeless—is a person struggling, against fierce conditions, to survive.
The advocacy activities are bolstered by direct assistance provided by MSF. Each year, MSF administers more than 20,000 free medical consultations and 8,000 social consultations. Alexei Nikiforov, coordinator of the MSF homeless programs in Moscow, reports that frostbite is by far the main complaint seen at MSF's outpatient clinic.
"The biggest enemy for the homeless, or anyone on the street," Nikoforov told CNN's Live Today on January 8th, "is the indifference of their fellow citizens. If someone feels sick, loses consciousness, falls—no one goes up to help him."
Moscow's homeless population tops 100,000, and the post-Soviet authorities have been reluctant to address the problem. The city's eight shelters only have capacity for 1,500, while the police sometimes run sweeps of the homeless to put them in holding cells for a few days.
"We don't have homelessness," Nikiforov said, deriding such official indifference. "We have 'vagrancy and begging.'"
MSF has been outspoken on the issue for close to a decade. These efforts paid off recently when local authorities began construction on a special center to provide emergency medical and social assistance.
Tags: Russian Federation