Dispatches from Chechnya
No. 3, October 15, 2000


HOME IS A TENT OR A RAILROAD CAR

NAZRAN, October 15, 2000 --When the camps were first organized in Ingushetia at the beginning of the fighting it was thought that people would reside there for no more than two to three months.  However, these displaced people of Chechnya are now beginning their second year in the camps.  Living conditions in this temporary housing are deplorable.

Some camps, like Sputnik in Sleptsovskaya and Bart in Karabulak, are comprised mainly of tarpaulin tents in dilapidated condition, unsuitable as shelter in times of rain or cold.  Combined with a lack of sanitation, there is a great danger to the camp populationís health.  The situation is more or less the same in the camps where refugees are sheltered in railroad cars.  Conditions are even graver for those refugees housed in cowsheds and other structures intended for livestock.

Not a single refugee camp has sufficient supplies of firewood or coal.  Camp residents are also frequently faced with stoppages of electricity, an especially serious problem for those that do not have gas, such as the railroad car shelters in Karabulak and Sleptsovskaya.  But even camps equipped with gas lines have the gas turned off, meaning that people are often unable to prepare hot food or boil water for several days at a time.  On September 1, the program providing hot food to all of the refugees in Ingushetia officially ended due to a lack of funding from the Russian federal government.  In camps such as Bart and Sputnik, refugees were, for a short time, provided with bread by the Ingushetian authorities.  But on October 12 the president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, ordered all food aid to refugees ceased until the federal government provides additional funding.

 There are only a few local and international humanitarian organizations that regularly provide food aid to the refugee camps.  The Danish Refugee Council gives food once a month and the International Committee of the Red Cross once every three months.  The Salvation Army provides food for young children every other week, while the North Ossetian Christian Mission periodically provides food to refugees in the Karabulak camp.  In early October, the Russian Committee of the Red Cross distributed schoolbags and school supplies to children in the first through fourth grades.

There are very limited medical services available to refugees in Ingushetia.  First aid stations that have been set up are in fact unable to medically assist people who are really ill or injured.  Medicines and qualified doctors are in short supply.  Refugees who go to the regular hospitals and clinics for treatment are almost always required to pay money that they do not have.

Because of the lack of even the most basic sanitation, a number of diseases are epidemic. In October alone, 45 refugees in the Sputnik camp, mostly school-age children, became ill with Hepatitis A.  With winter approaching, the damp and cold encourages flu epidemics that often claim the lives of those with weakened immune systems, especially the elderly.

It is not unusual for refugees to die of diseases caused or complicated by stressful situations and psychological trauma.  Most refugees are in need of psychiatric help, but the Psychological Rehabilitation Center, jointly organized by the French humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders and Chechen psychotherapists, works only in the camps around Sleptsovskaya and is not able to help everyone in need.

Many children in refugee camps are unable to go to school.  Although "tent schools" have been established in the Bart camp in Karabulak and the Sputnik and Northern camps in Sleptsovskaya, they operate irregularly.  Such schools are forced to shut down in winter when there is a lack of wood and coal, when there is no money to pay the teachers, and in conditions of quarantine arising from an epidemic.  Furthermore, the tent schools serve only the youngest students, usually first through fourth grade.  The Salvation Army opened a school for those grades in the railroad cars around Karabulak and a school for first through eighth grade in the Bart tent city.  The quality of the education in these schools is not very high. Many subjects are not taught because there are no knowledgeable teachers available.  Older children, in the ninth through eleventh grades, have not been able to attend school for two years now.  This is a serious problem that should be resolved immediately.

Recent times witnessed some refugees returning to their towns and villages in Chechnya, but with the approach of winter many of them are coming back to Ingushetia and the camps because living conditions in Chechnya are even worse.

Despite the fact that the number of international humanitarian organizations setting up operations in Chechnya and Ingushetia grows with every day, the living conditions in these areas are getting worse and worse.  This is caused by the inefficient method of delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance as well as by a lack of cooperation between the various organizations.  It also demonstrates the fact that the work of humanitarian organizations alone is not enough to improve living conditions in Chechnya and in the refugee camps of Ingushetia.  What is needed is a government program to rebuild the socio-economic infrastructure of the area and repair the immense material and moral damage done by the military campaign in Chechnya.  It is unlikely that this will occur without financial support from the international community, not only through nongovernmental organizations, but also at the governmental level.