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Humanitarian situation in Chechnya improves but serious challenges remain – UN

Humanitarian situation in Chechnya improves but serious challenges remain – UN

Two Chechens receive legal counselling
The humanitarian situation has improved significantly in the Russian republic of Chechnya, where hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted in two separatist wars, but serious challenges remain, including security and human rights abuses, the United Nations refugee agency said in a report from the Chechen capital of Grozny.

“Stabilization of the situation [in the region] has become a reality, tangible positive changes have happened, particularly in Chechnya,” noted Jo Hegenauer, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the neighbouring republic of North Ossetia.

UNHCR, with its so-called quick impact projects (QIPs), is helping a few returnees in Chechnya, as well as displaced Chechens in the neighbouring republics, to start small businesses.

QIPs are widely viewed as being among the most effective tools used by UN missions around the world to help local communities at ground level and at low cost, from repairing leaking roofs in schools in Georgia to opening a vocational centre in Liberia to refurbishing sanitation facilities in Burundi.

The memories of terror and destruction remain vivid for those who went through the wars that started in 1994 and 1999, the report stressed. “The whole house and even the cellar [in our family home in Grozny] were shaking because of the bombs,” it quoted one resident as saying, who has spent more than seven years in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in neighbouring Ingushetia.

“I was shot at by a sniper who, fortunately, missed. Then some soldiers used me as a human shield. They forced me to go down into cellars where they suspected Chechen fighters were hiding,” the 68-year-old added. The report gave him the fictitious name of Lecha Abazov for what it called “for protection reasons.”

He was among hundreds of thousands of people who sought safety elsewhere in Chechnya, in other parts of the Russian Federation or overseas. But while Mr. Abazov remains in Ingushetia, most IDPs have returned home.

Today, there are some 15,000 Chechen IDPs in Ingushetia compared to 240,000 in January 2000 and some 30,000 within Chechnya itself compared to an estimated 170,000 seven years ago. There are also about 6,500 Chechen IDPs in the nearby Russian republic of Dagestan.

Despite the widespread material damage, there are clear signs of economic recovery. Aside from the return of displaced people, the pace of reconstruction is gathering pace with building sites all over Grozny, UNHCR reported. The authorities earlier this year announced plans to build housing for some 3,000 displaced families currently living in temporary accommodation centres.

But significant problems remain in Chechnya and neighbouring republics. In April, UNHCR and other UN agencies withdrew from Ingushetia after a rocket attack on their joint compound in the town of Nazran. The offices remain closed and the incident showed that security remains an issue.

Human rights abuses and problems in implementing the rule of law, especially execution of court orders, are also causes of concern, the report noted.

“Although statistics show that the number of human rights violations has dropped significantly in Chechnya, human rights violations are still widespread in the republic,” it quoted a representative of a human rights organization in Chechnya as saying. These include torture, extrajudicial executions, abductions and forced disappearances.