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Civilians Continue to Flee Violence in Chechnya

New York, February 28, 2002 — A report released by the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) shows how ongoing insecurity and indiscriminate violence in Chechnya continue to drive large numbers of Chechen civilians to seek refuge in Ingushetia and other neighboring republics only to receive inadequate humanitarian assistance there due to a policy of refusing to register new arrivals.

"Chechen civilians are caught between a rock and a hard place," states Jose-Antonio Bastos, operational director of MSF relief efforts in North Caucasus. "In Chechnya, they face daily violence and harassment, bombings, and arbitrary arrests, but when they try to flee to safety in neighboring republics, they are denied official registration and adequate assistance."

Testimonies documented in the MSF report, "Chechnya/Ingushetia: A Deliberate Strategy of Non-Assistance to People in Crisis," reveal that in the third year of a war described as an "anti-terrorist operation," civilians in Chechnya continue to live under a reign of terror, in a prison-like environment characterized by arbitrary rules and daily violence. The testimonies show that innocent men and women continue to die every day inside Chechnya, either by direct acts of violence or by getting caught in the crossfire. Daily survival is becoming harder and harder and many residents spend much of their time in cellars, guarding the few personal belongings they still possess.

Thousands of Chechens continue to seek refuge in neighboring Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other neighboring republics but since the beginning of 2001, these new arrivals are considered 'clandestine' and no longer officially registered. MSF is concerned about the humanitarian situation of an estimated 200,000 displaced Chechens now facing their third winter in Ingushetia and an additional 10,000 in Dagestan. Without registration, the newly arrived displaced are often unable to receive official relief assistance and in the absence of a complete census of the displaced population, non-governmental organizations have to plan their assistance programs on the basis of incomplete lists and a partial picture of the needs. This deliberate strategy of non-assistance is intended to drive the Chechens back to Chechnya. MSF is particularly concerned by the increasing pressure on the displaced in Ingushetia to return home, and requests that any return of Chechen civilians to Chechnya take place only on a voluntary basis and if the conditions in Chechnya permit it.

MSF provides health care and supports health facilities in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Chechnya. In Ingushetia, MSF has been providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced Chechens since 1999. For security reasons, MSF can only give limited assistance to health facilities in Chechnya, but within these limitations, MSF is able to provide some support to health facilities and to distribute drugs and medical supplies.