The Chechen conflict has displaced more than 200,000 people, almost 150,000 of whom lived in Ingushetia in late 2000.41 Starting in January 2001, Russian and Chechen government officials have insisted that the IDPs in Ingushetia should return home before the end of the year. In May, Chechen government officials even pushed this deadline forward to late June. Throughout the first half of the year, government agencies used both legitimate and unacceptable methods to encourage IDPs to return to Chechnya. On the one hand, the Chechen government prepared temporary settlements in Chechnya for those unable to return to their own homes, offered transportation to those willing to return, and actively recruited returnees. On the other, the federal government implemented several measures that appeared primarily aimed at making IDPs feel less comfortable and secure in Ingushetia, chiefly by tinkering with access to food supplies and ending registration of new IDPs. Despite all these efforts, only a small trickle of IDPs returned to Chechnya, and most appeared determined to stay in Ingushetia for the foreseeable future.
On January 31, following a meeting with humanitarian organizations, Vladimir Elagin, Russia's government minister responsible for Chechnya, stated that "our main task is for civilian life to squeeze out military life." He said that the return of the IDPs from Ingushetia was as a necessary part of this process.42 A week later, the minister said the federal and Chechen government would aim to have all IDPs return to Chechnya before the end of 2001, saying this was a "difficult but achievable task."43
Both Elagin and Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Iliasov were vague as to how exactly they would achieve the objective but seemed to believe that most IDPs would return of their own free will. Elagin said: "The budgetary funds sent [to Chechnya] for specific projects and investments from other sources will allow for the reestablishment of the housing fund. Then residents will return themselves."44 Iliasov said that "if the economy picks up, employment opportunities will be created, compensation for loss of housing and property will be paid out, people will return to Chechnya themselves."45
The Chechen government made significant efforts to prepare temporary accommodation for those IDPs who wanted to return to Chechnya but could not return to their own homes. In March, Iliasov said preparations had been made to receive some 60,000 IDPs.46 In late May, a spokesperson for Iliasov stated that seven temporary settlements had been built, including two that were recently finished in Argun. She said another ten centers would be ready in the near future in Grozny, providing room for about 15,000 IDPs.47 The spokesperson emphasized that these facilities were houses and not tents. An employee of a nongovernmental humanitarian organization confirmed that two facilities in former kindergartens in Argun had been reconstructed.48
In late May, as the policy of gentle encouragement failed to produce tangible results, the Chechen government took a more aggressive line. It announced that all IDPs in Ingushetia were to return to Chechnya before the end of June or lose the right to government humanitarian aid. A spokesperson for the Chechen prime minister told the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant that "those who do not move by the end of June will no longer get any aid in July, as they will no longer be considered as temporarily displaced people."49
In April, officials of the Committee for Internally Displaced Persons' Affairs of the Chechen government arrived in Ingushetia to recruit IDPs for return. The leadership of the IDP camp in Karabulak told Human Rights Watch the officials spent about two weeks in the camp going from tent to tent trying to convince people to return to Chechnya.50 The officials found just over ninety IDPs from the Karabulak camp willing to return to Chechnya. On April 28 and 29, these IDPs left Ingushetia in buses in two installments. The majority of them were taken to a temporary IDP settlement in Argun (see below).51 According to Chechen officials, many more IDPs returned to Chechnya from Ingushetia in late April. RIA Novosti quoted the head of the Committee for IDP Affairs on April 24 as saying that 183 IDPs had returned to Chechnya and that 300 more were going back in the next few days.52
When Human Rights Watch visited Ingushetia in June, an official of the Chechen Ministry for the Federation had replaced the officials of the Committee for IDP Affairs. The official, who asked not to be named, told Human Rights Watch his task was primarily to facilitate the return to Chechnya for those IDPs who wished to go but not to actively press for return.53 He said he had put up posters in various camps and settlements in Ingushetia containing information on return options for those interested. The official said that few IDPs were willing to return to Chechnya at that moment.
In May 2001, IDPs in Ingushetia faced insecurity over food rations as the Russian government attempted to make IDPs uncomfortable as a means of indirectly pressuring them to go home.54
Throughout 2000, the Russian federal government failed to fulfill its obligation to feed those displaced by the war in Chechnya. As a result of ongoing conflicts over finances between the federal government and the authorities in Ingushetia, government-sponsored hot meal and bread supplies to IDPs were highly unpredictable: supplies would stop when the Ingush government could no longer pay its debts to bakeries and other suppliers, and started up again when the federal Ministry of Finance transferred new funds to the authorities in Ingushetia. According to one humanitarian aid worker, however, international humanitarian organizations ensured sufficient food rations to IDPs throughout 2000.55
In late April 2001, Vladimir Kuksa, the Ingush minister for emergency situations, informed international humanitarian organizations that the Russian federal government would start delivering food aid to IDPs in camps and spontaneous settlements in Ingushetia and requested them to stop their food aid programs at these locations.56 As of May 1, 2001, international humanitarian organizations stopped providing food aid to the camps and settlements, but the Russian federal government failed to live up to its promises. On May 21, Minister Kuksa requested that the international humanitarian organizations resume their food aid programs in the camps and settlements.
As of April 1, 2001, the Russian government instructed the Ingush migration authorities not to register any new IDPs from Chechnya. The Ministry for National and Migration Policies, however, maintained in a letter to State Duma Deputy Viacheslav Igrunov that the ministry never issued any instructions to discontinue registering new IDPs from Chechnya. 57 The failure to register IDPs, whether the result of a policy decision or a matter of practice, violates principle 20 of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.58
Some of the people who returned to Chechnya in April came back to Ingushetia shortly thereafter and sought to register again as IDPs, citing dangerous conditions at home. On April 28 and 29, two groups of IDPs left the camp in Karabulak for temporary accommodation in Argun. However, according to the leadership of the camp, after about one week twelve of the IDPs were back in Ingushetia saying it was too dangerous in Chechnya.59 These IDPs had to register with the migration service in Ingushetia again but were turned down due to the ban on registering new IDPs. Consequently, the camp in Karabulak was unable to provide them with living space. According to the camp leadership, the displaced returnees lingered at the camp for about a month, probably staying with relatives or acquaintances, and then simply slipped out of sight.
Human Rights Watch researchers unsuccessfully tried to track down some of these IDPs in order to get first hand accounts of the events that had prompted them to leave Chechnya again. The sister-in-law and daughter of two of the displaced told Human Rights Watch that, after unsuccessfully trying to reregister in Ingushetia, their relatives had seen no other option but to go back to Chechnya.60 Human Rights Watch was unable to verify exactly what had happened in Argun although several secondary sources stated that on the day one of the groups of IDPs arrived a mine had exploded near the place of temporary settlement and that Russian troops had conducted a sweep operation.61
Despite the attempts by the Russian government agencies to use carrot and stick measures to encourage IDPs to return to Chechnya, as of October 2001, 146,278 registered IDPs from Chechnya remained in Ingushetia.62 A Human Rights Watch survey among IDPs in Ingushetia showed that the overwhelming majority had no immediate plans to return home, preferring to wait for the security situation to improve.
In July 2001, Human Rights Watch conducted a survey among 232 IDPs from various camps, spontaneous settlements, and the private sector regarding their feelings about return. Only thirteen respondents said they had concrete plans to return to Chechnya. Nineteen said they did not want to return at all. The remaining 200 said they eventually wanted to return to Chechnya but currently had no plans to do so, overwhelmingly citing a perceived risk to life and health as the primary reason. One hundred ninety-six of these respondents cited these risks as the most important or second most important reason for not returning. They also cited other reasons for not returning at that time: the loss of their homes was cited as an important reason (seventy-one participants), as was the unclear future of Chechnya (approximately two-thirds). About one-third also cited psychological trauma due to losses suffered during the war as an important obstacle to return. Interestingly, very few of the displaced cited the lack of infrastructure, employment opportunities or properly functioning schools as reasons for not returning.
54 The apparent manipulation of food aid to indirectly pressure IDPs to return contravenes those aspects of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement that guarantee humanitarian assistance. Principle 3 states: "National authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction." Principle 18 (2) states: "At the minimum, . . competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to: (a) Essential food and potable water; (b) Basic shelter and housing; (c) Appropriate clothing; and (d) Essential medical services and sanitation."
56 The request was based on a decision of the Government of the Russian Federation of March 3, 2001, No. 163, "On Financing Expenditures on Meals and Life-Support of Individuals Temporarily Displaced from the Places of Residence on the Territory of the Chechen Republic and Stationed in Temporary Accommodation Facilities on the Territory of the Russian Federation; and Expenditures on the Transportation of Such Individuals and Their Belongings to the Places of Residence on the Territory of the Chechen Republic." The decision envisages, among others, that in 2001 the federal government will pay for the acquisition and delivery of food to IDPs, for providing temporary accommodation to certain IDPs, for ensuring maintenance of temporary accommodation facilities, and for the return of IDPs to their place of permanent residence in Chechnya.
57 In a letter to Duma Deputy Viacheslav Igrunov, dated July 12, 2001, a representative of the Ministry for National and Migration Policies maintained that the ministry never issued any instructions to discontinue registering newly arriving IDPs from Chechnya. This letter is on file at Human Rights Watch. Attempts by Human Rights Watch to obtain a copy of this instruction in Ingushetia were unsuccessful; while some officials in Ingushetia acknowledged having seen the instruction, others denied its existence.
58 Principle 20 states: "1. Every human being has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. 2. To give effect to this right for internally displaced persons, the authorities concerned shall issue to them all documents necessary for the enjoyment and exercise of their legal rights, such as passports, personal identification documents, birth certificates and marriage certificates. In particular, the authorities shall facilitate the issuance of new documents or the replacement of documents lost in the course of displacement, without imposing reasonable conditions, such as requiring the return to one's area of habitual residence in order to obtain these or other required documents."
61 Human Rights Watch interview with "Zina Chueva" (not her real name), Nazran, Ingushetia, June 28, 2001; Human Rights Watch interview with the camp leadership, Karabulak, Ingushetia, June 28, 2001; Yevgenia Borisova, "Scared Refugees Regret Returning Home," Moscow Times, April 27, 2001.