UN asks Russian authorities to postpone closure of camps for displaced Chechens

UN asks Russian authorities to postpone closure of camps for displaced Chechens

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is asking the Russian authorities to postpone their announced impending closures of tent camps in Ingushetia housing thousands of Chechens who were forced to flee violence in their republic.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is asking the Russian authorities to postpone their announced impending closures of tent camps in Ingushetia housing thousands of Chechens who were forced to flee violence in their republic.

The agency is also requesting a joint assessment of alternative accommodation sites before any relocation would take place, spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

Moscow had announced plans to close on Sunday the Aki Yurt camp, which houses over 1,500 people. “Given that lows of -5° C. are predicted for the area this weekend, it is imperative that real alternatives are available for the displaced people before gas and electricity are cut,” Mr. Redmond said. He also cited other recent statements by Russian authorities indicating plans to close all tent camps in Ingushetia by the end of the year.

UNHCR has stressed that returns to Chechnya can only be considered voluntary if displaced persons are fully informed about conditions for return and if they have a genuine alternatives available to allow them to remain in Ingushetia.

“We have repeatedly underlined that, regarding return to Chechnya, assistance should follow the people, not the other way around,” the spokesman emphasized. “While some people have returned voluntarily, others continue to express fears about returning to Chechnya because of the security situation there.”

The agency is also concerned because although it had received prior approval to winterize other tent camps in Ingushetia – replacing worn-out or damaged tents – it has since been informed that “all tent replacement is to stop,” Mr. Redmond said.

Of the approximately 110,000 displaced Chechens living in Ingushetia, some 20,000 live in tent camps, according to UNHCR.