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A Second Visit to Chechen Internally Displaced People, IDP's, in Ingushetia



By Roswitha Jarman

A report of a 10 day visit in early March 2000 by Roswitha Jarman working on behalf of the Agency of Rehabilitation and Development, ARD, an NGO and charity of Dutch Interchurch Aid, DIA, that started to work in Chechnya in 1996. ARD has now a staff of over 30 local people, most of whom are now in Ingushetia but some still in Chechnya.


The general situation in Ingushetia

I travelled to Ingushetia without problems. I was on my own this time but I did not feel in any danger. On arrival in Ingushetia and before even leaving the secure part of the airport a security officer came up to me and asked me to accompany him to his office. He asked for my details and asked for what reason I had come to Ingushetia. He was very friendly and offered me a security guard for my time in Ingushetia, but I assured him that I would be met and would be accompanied throughout my time in Ingushetia. Again on leaving Ingushetia he recognised me and made sure that all had been without problems for me. I found this little exercise very reassuring even if I felt I could have done without the gun swinging of the security guard.

It is amazing that life goes on in a calm and ordered way in Ingushetia with the immense problems the refugees bring with them. When we visited the little hospital in Sleptsovskaya patients were tightly fitted into small rooms some had to lie in the corridors. The needs of wounded is stretching the local facilities to braking point. Local people needing hospital treatment are suffering. There are however no visible signs of discontent.

On one evening we did a little sightseeing of Ingushetia. Magamet, my Ingush colleague, wanted me to see the new presidential palace. It is an impressive and beautiful set of buildings. I commented that for the 300 000 Ingush this was a much more impressive set of buildings than those of London which serve a population of 60 million. 'We Ingush find it difficult to be second' was Magamet's smiling response.

It is good to know that relations between Ingushetia and North Ossetia are slowly improving and that there is at least a trickle of refugees returning to the Prigorodny District of those displaced during the 1992 war.

We held a seminar for our ARD staff in the new gymnasium of Nazran. I had known the Director, Maryem Yunosova Galayeva, since 1994, when she was dreaming in a set of semi-ruined buildings of her future gymnasium. The gymnasium is quite magnificent: I do not know of many schools in England so beautifully set up. There is however not enough equipment nor enough books. I imagine a more modern approach to teaching may eventually come, but to the eye it is a very beautiful building and the pupils we saw in their neat dresses and white collars looked exemplary.

The conditions of Chechen IDP's in Ingushetia and particularly in the camp 'Sputnik' on the border with Chechnya, and in other smaller camps.

On this visit I got a more accurate picture of the conditions people are living in. I visited several families in the tents in Sputnik, which is only one of several such large campsites. About 8000 people live there. I also visited other and smaller campsites and individual groups living in farm buildings or stables.

Words cannot describe the misery that people are living in and will have to live in for months to come. This is a major human disaster and ARD* can only do little to alleviate the misery. But that little is most welcome. All the aid agencies apart from UNHCR and the Red Cross who are active in the camps are relatively small. They liaise with each other to complement their work.

Added to the misery of the living conditions of the refugees, people hear day by day that their house/flat is now destroyed, or that Russians are living in their homes, or that all their possessions are gone, or that the whole village is in ruins, and that people known to them have been killed as they tried to escape, or have been tortured in filtration camps. Very little is left of any hope that something maybe salvaged to build on for the future. Some positive news is received that some villages have been liberated and that order has been restored. Some IDP's travel into Chechnya to have a look for themselves. They bring back whatever news they pick up to the people in the camps.

In the camps many people are ill. They lie on horrible beds in stuffy tents surrounded by other inhabitants of that tent. One little heater serves some four or five families to boil water and cook food. In some tents little corners have been screened off for individual families, the sparse possessions neatly arranged on handmade shelves or under the bed.

People walking around in ragged clothes carrying water or going about some other simple business. Some wrap blankets around themselves and wear local galoshes that may or may not fit. Many children have no footwear. Some washing hangs on lines for those that have been able to heat enough water for their laundry. Some tents are more organized: a mud outside the tent, stones or wooden planks to keep the worst mud outside, shoes, galoshes neatly arranged outside tents. Some have dug a ditch around their tents to lead away rain water. I also saw a few cows and some chickens.

While I was there the weather was becoming warmer, although there was still a very cold wind. One or two days were however real Spring days filling the air with the scents of Spring and the heart with joy and hope. On many days bombers could be seen flying over the camp, the children keeping a watchful eye, and on particularly one day the nearby bombing was loud and prolonged.

The administrative tent of ARD is a busy place. A constant stream of people comes to see the doctor who has her place there. ARD is able to dispense medicines there, which our staff find and buy as far away as Nalchik.

In other tents children meet and play, and tell and draw their stories. ARD workers help children to rebuild a trusting and supportive community. Some particularly vulnerable children get individual attention. Adolescents and women meet ARD staff in another other tent for individual and group work. Women come together to knit, or borrow books from our small library.

ARD has set up a schoolroom for senior pupils. It pays for teachers and provides books. On the nearby volleyball pitch there was a constant game in progress. For the older children there is an evening club which focuses mainly on learning traditional Chechen dances and drumming. ARD are also providing shoes and clothing to those who need it most. This is not an easy operation: people are pushing to get to the front of the queue claiming their needs to be the greatest.

I walked around the camp and through talking with children was taken into several tents where I could see the conditions people are living in. Many cannot go anywhere because they have no shoes or clothes. ARD has a huge task in this large camp with such great needs.

There is lively activity around the school tents and those tents in which ARD workers meet with children and young people. In two tents ARD works with children, teenagers and women. The children meet in small groups where they have time to talk, play, listen to each other, draw and dance. Any child that needs special attention is seen individually.

Teenagers individually or in groups of two or three talk with our workers about their fears and problems. Drugs are starting to be a problem and we try to help some of the vulnerable youngsters to resist them.

ARD employs two people to supervise an evening playgroup for children and a youth group where traditional dancing is taught. The ARD volleyball pitch is well used and is an obvious delight.

Any travel into Chechnya is strictly controlled. At the time of my visit foreigners (and I imagine that includes Russians) can only get permission to travel to Gudermes. Within Chechnya it is difficult to move from one place to another as we were told by Z. from Dubai Yurt. She is one of our ARD staff who came to us quite shocked. She wanted to travel to a village some way away to make contact with other ARD workers. On the bus her papers were checked and she was questioned: why was she going to this village? Fortunately she has a sister living there, and when she gave the name of her sister, and the passengers in the bus had confirmed that such a person was living in this village, she was allowed to proceed.

Z. told us her story. She had for the first time left Chechnya at the end of February. Much of the time since the beginning of the war she and her family lived in her cellar together with other people who needed shelter. There were 36 of them including pregnant women. Their village was only bombed occasionally at first. Then some Chechen fighters settled into the hills above her village and this frightened people. An elder went to the hills to talk with these fighters and asked them to leave since the villagers did not want to attract more bombing. The fighters refused and as the elder left them, they shot him in the legs. This disregard for elders is most unusual in Chechen society; it indicates that these Chechen fighters were influenced from outside. It is said that amongst the Chechen fighters are many from Arab countries and also from the Ukraine.

The inhabitants of Dubai Yurt realised that they could not persuade the fighters to move away and they also heard over the radio that the Russians considered there were no more civilians in this village. Z. with other women carrying white flags went to the Russian authorities in a nearby village and asked for safe conduct out of Dubai Yurt. A Russian officer agreed to give them safe conduct, even though he said he risked his life doing so. The villagers of Dubai Yurt were safely conducted to a safe village. (There are many incidents when safe conduct was not observed and Chechens were shot at from behind). Z. and her team found out that the Russian officer was safe but was transferred to another town. Z with other women brought nearly 50 children with them to the safe village, most of them orphaned.

I had been given some money for special needs of Chechen IDP's. With this we were able to provide one large family living by themselves in a small shed on a farm with clothes and toys for the children. When ARD's mobile medical team on their weekly visit came there a few days later, this family was still raving with joy and thankfulness for the gifts. Nobody had brought them anything before. Magamet was also able to procure a wheelchair for a man in his forties who had lost all his family in one onslaught and who was paralysed and unable to move. He was overjoyed to move about in the wheelchair. With this money ARD also bought clothes and shoes for one large tent in which nearly 40 people live of which 22 are children, some of them invalids.

On the last morning we went to two of the twelve special play centres, which ARD is setting up in camps that have little contact with aid agencies. I met the teachers who will play and work with groups of children. The teachers and children were excited and thankful about having been given the opportunity to do something for themselves.

Whilst I was there we heard of a Saudi Prince visiting another refugee camp. He cast around sweets and packets of tea and announced that in one of the packets was a $500 note. Naturally there was a humiliating scramble. The people who reported this and our ARD staff were horrified.

Terrible things happen in the Russian filtration camps. People are tortured to confess that they were fighters, some survive, and others die. If they die the Russians offer the body to the relatives and ask either for money or a Russian corpse instead. When our friends in Dubai Yurt had such a request, they said they had no dead Russians. Then the Chechen fighters said they could find a dead Russian to exchange. Fortunately the people in Dubai Yurt recognised the inherent danger in this (a dead Russian means justification to fight and bomb) so they said they did not want that and found the money to pay for the body.



It is difficult to obtain information on what is really happening in Chechnya or of the situation of IDP's in neighbouring regions. Newspapers report little and anyway are too expensive for the ordinary citizens to buy: they rely on television. The few news reports on TV I saw painted a fairly positive picture of the effectiveness of the Russian army. Showing for example thankful villagers in liberated villages or areas of Grozny. On my last evening the news report showed with great pride some new guns that generals of the army were examining and praising highly as being several times more accurate than previous guns. The general feeling is that the Chechens on the whole are bandits or terrorists and Russia is freeing its citizens from this terrorism. That the Russian military in the process is more ruthless and violent than any terrorist is of course not reported on. People understandably do not want to know what is really happening. That would be painful; no doubt they have their suspicions.

An Ingush woman who had been in Rostov on Don said that she saw Russian contract soldiers from all over Russia and the Ukraine gathered around the railway station in an undisciplined and drunken manner. These contract soldiers were waiting to go to Chechnya. She felt these were fearful people who could be capable of anything. There have been reports by Chechens who have spoken with Russians who are uncomfortable with the situation and who told them their instructions were to eliminate the whole Chechen population.

What I saw of the Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin on television made me very worried. I do not know how clear an image our politicians who have been meeting with Putin have of him. I fear he may be a very dangerous man who is able to present a front that is quite different from the reality of his actions. When I talked to a Russian Orthodox Priest about him, I was told that Putin observed Russian Orthodox customs like kissing the upheld palms of the priest with perfect naturalness and correctness. He knows what to do in an Orthodox church: he can present a perfect front.




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