Moscow/New York, July 9, 2002 — The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) condemns the forced relocation of displaced Chechens and Russians to temporary locations in Grozny, where violence and insecurity are a common feature of life. The closure on Sunday of a camp in Znamenskoye, in northern Chechnya, was accomplished by an organized campaign of harassment and coercion by the authorities, which left people with no option but to move out.
MSF condemns the Russian authorities for this action and finds the inaction of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations, and the international community unacceptable in light of clear evidence of widespread coercion and harassment. The OSCE member states have been informed about the coercion used in Znamenskoye and other camps. In spite of this, no action is being taken to prevent such measures. A UN fact-finding mission heading to Znamenskoye today is urged by MSF to address the forced relocation of displaced people.
"It is obvious that this is not a voluntary movement," said Dr. José A. Bastos, Operational Director for MSF. "Mothers in Znamenskoye told us they dread returning to Grozny as they fear for their lives, particularly for the lives of their sons."
The actions in Znamenskoye lead MSF to believe that this pattern of so-called 'voluntary' return will repeat itself elsewhere in the Caucasus region, where another estimated 180,000 displaced have moved, escaping the violence in Chechnya, where bombings, shootings, arbitrary arrests, and torture are routine.
"Our assessments in Grozny show that the living conditions for the return of displaced people are not acceptable," says Bruno Lab, program-coordinator for Chechnya. "The assistance provided to the returnees is largely insufficient and there are no guarantees for their security."
The camp in Znamenskoye, which used to be home to 2200 displaced people, had tents torn down and latrines shut during the past weeks. The remaining occupants were encouraged to leave by being told that gas, water, and electricity was to be cut off. Additional psychological pressure was applied by telling people that they would lose entitlement to benefits and grants if they did not punctually relocate to Grozny.
A '20 point plan' for the resettlement of up to 180,000 Chechen displaced people in Ingushetia over the next twelve weeks was recently put into action by the federal authorities who assured that it will be conducted on a voluntary basis. MSF considers that any campaign of voluntary return includes the option of staying behind. Essential services and facilities should remain in place for those who want to stay.
The UN fact-finding mission to Znamenskoye today is too late to help the 2200 Chechens and Russians who have already been relocated to Grozny. For the sake of the remaining displaced people, MSF demands that the Russian authorities put an end to forced relocation of Chechen and Russian displaced people.