MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 303: Georgia: Chechens Impatient with Life in Limbo

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Mon Sep 12 20:42:01 2005


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WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 303, September 9, 2005

AZERBAIJAN: ELECTION COVERAGE FUELS TV ROW  The start of election
campaigning has reignited the controversy over how independent the
country’s new public service television station is.  By Rufat Abbasov
and Gulnaz Guliyeva in Baku

GEORGIA: CHECHENS IMPATIENT WITH LIFE IN LIMBO  Refugees from the
Chechen conflict say they can’t go back or forward, and life where they
are in the Pankisi Gorge has become intolerable.  By Jokola Achishvili
in Duisi and Giorgi Kupatadze in Tbilisi

ARMENIA: THE POWER OF RUMOUR  Confusion over whether the Russians had
bought or just leased Armenia’s electricity company adds to underlying
fears about losing strategic assets.  By Naira Melkumian in Erevan

ARMENIANS CHOOSE INDEPENDENT PATH  Delegates at a conference on
Armenia’s future voted for an independent development, rather than
placing too much reliance on Russia or Europe.  By Ara Tadevosian in
Yerevan

ABORTION USED FOR SEX SELECTION IN AZERBAIJAN  Azeri women determined to
produce a male heir are risking their health in abortion clinics.  By
Sabina Kiryashova in Baku

FROM VILLAGE LIFE TO PROSTITUTION IN DAGESTAN  Women working in illicit
brothels increasingly turn out to be from strict traditional
backgrounds.  By Svetlana Anohina in Makhachkala

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GEORGIA: CHECHENS IMPATIENT WITH LIFE IN LIMBO

Refugees from the Chechen conflict say they can’t go back or forward,
and life where they are in the Pankisi Gorge has become intolerable.

By Jokola Achishvili in Duisi and Giorgi Kupatadze in Tbilisi

Vakha Arsanukaev and his family have lived in a hospital building in
Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge for six years since they fled Chechnya, always
fearing that they could be sent home to an uncertain fate but sustained
by the hope that they will one day be accepted as refugees in some other
country. 

Arsanukaev, 47, is among more than 100 Chechen refugees who have been
picketing the entrance to Duisi, the administrative centre of Pankisi,
for a third consecutive week. 

They are refusing to sign the annual round of documentation that
registers them as refugees in Georgia, and are threatening to go on a
hunger strike unless the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,
UNHCR, and the Tbilisi government act on their complaints. In the face
of what they say is continual pressure by Georgian police, they accuse
the UN agency of blocking their attempts to leave the country.  

"For six years, we have been living in constant fear. Our rights are
being violated all the time and nothing is being done to solve our
problems,” Arsanukaev told IWPR. "This isn’t our first action. But this
time, we refugees are not going to surrender until we achieve some
result.”  

About 2,000 of an original total of 7,000 refugees from Chechnya remain
in Georgia six years after Russia began its second military action
against Chechen separatists in 1999. Almost all live in the Pankisi, not
far from the mountainous border with Russia. 

The Chechen civilians now protesting in the gorge complain of constant
harassment by Georgian police. 

Security in the Pankisi remains a sensitive issue between Tbilisi and
Moscow, with the former attempting to counter Russian claims that it is
not doing enough to make the area safe.

>From 2001, Georgia cracked down against Chechen militants hiding out in
the gorge, and now asserts that the fighters have gone. But the Russian
authorities allege that some rebels are still based in Pankisi. Russian
bombs have twice landed in the gorge in recent years, and Moscow says it
has the right to strike targets outside its territory to wipe out
“terrorists”. 

But their main complaint is with the UNHCR, which they accuse of
blocking their efforts to be relocated to a third country. 

"We have information that Canada, Sweden, Poland and a number of other
countries are ready to receive the refugees. But the UNHCR is impeding
this opportunity,” said Ziavdi Idigov, chairman of a group which
coordinates Chechen refugees in Georgia. Idigov said those people who
had managed to reach those countries independently had won refugee
status easily. 

The UNHCR mission in Tbilisi says such accusations are groundless, and
that it is being wrongly blamed for the increasing tough immigration
policies introduced by western countries.

"The High Commissioner’s office does its best to render assistance to
refugees - including their departure from Georgia,” said Naveed Hussain,
the head of the UNHCR office in Georgia. 

“Those refugees who have been refused resettlement [by third countries]
certainly think that their rights are violated, and they begin to
protest. And because we are the only organisation that works directly
with them, they accuse us.”

According to Hussain, 60 Chechen refugees living in Georgia have left
for third countries so far this year, with Canada, Switzerland and the
Netherlands the most common destinations. In 2003 and 2004, 170 Chechen
refugees left for those countries as well.

"Unfortunately, the number of refugees accepted in western countries is
reduced every year, as immigration policies become tougher,” said
Hussain. 

The Chechens protesting in Pankisi say they are so desperate that they
would be willing to accept temporary resettlement in other parts of
Georgia. But Georgia’s minister for refugee affairs, Eteri Astemirova,
said this was impossible. 

She pointed out that the government’s existing obligations include
helping the ethnic Georgians displaced by the conflicts in Abkhazia and
South Ossetia, over half of whom have yet to be provided with a place to
live. Georgia has also promised to help the Meskhetians, a Muslim group
deported by Stalin in the Forties, to come back.

Another complaint made by the Chechen refugees is that the aid they get
from UNHCR is insufficient. Each refugee is issued with 27 kilogrammes
of flour, three kg of beans, 1.2 litres of sunflower oil, a tin of
condensed milk, a can of canned fish, and some tea, sugar and sanitary
supplies. 

“It’s not enough to live on,” said one woman, Lia Bagayeva. 

Sosbek Alisultanov has lived for years in one room of a state-owned
building with his family of three children, and says they barely get by. 

“If it weren’t for the help of the Chechen non-government organisations
which provide us with some food from time to time, it would be
impossible to survive,” he told IWPR. “We are half-starving anyway. We
basically eat bread, beans and pasta. We get only when the locals start
building something and employ us as labourers. But that happens very
seldom.” 

However, the UNHCR’s Navid Hussain says that even though life may be
difficult, the refugees here are getting more aid than recipients in
other countries, particularly in Africa. 

The protesters say they are willing to boycott the re-registration
process even if that disqualifies them for the rations. 

If they cannot go to another country, or relocate within Georgia, the
other option would be to consider going back home. 

Many of the refugees are put off by fears that they will be caught up in
the continuing military sweeps, in which Russian troops and Chechen
security forces loyal to Moscow-backed administration detain suspected
rebels.

"My relatives returned to Chechnya. They were promised a lot of
construction work, but we haven’t heard from them since,” said one
Pankisi local. 

But a minority of the remaining 2,000 refugees have taken the decision
to go back. Vasily Korchmar, adviser to the Russian ambassador in
Tbilisi, told IWPR that more than 300 have submitted applications to
help them return to Chechnya. 

“I have decided to go home,” said one man who refused to give his name.
“We no have no choice. I wanted to leave for any third country, but I
was turned down. We live in very bad conditions, we don’t have enough
food and our children need education. 

“The Russians have promised to give us living space and monetary
compensation. We haven’t seen our relatives for six years and we miss
our native land, so we’ve decided to go.” 

It is a decision that may make this man unpopular with fellow-refugees. 

“Everyone who has submitted an application to return to Chechnya is
viewed as ‘Moscow’s man’ here and comes under suspicion,” he said.
“There have even been fights between those who’d agreed to return and
people who were against it. So it’s better to keep silent so as not to
complicate life, which is hard enough as it is.” 

Giorgi Kupatadze is a correspondent with the Black Sea Press in Tbilisi.
Jokola Achishvili is is head of the Pankisi office of the Tbilisi-based
group Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights group based in the
Pankisi Gorge.

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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2005 The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting 

CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE No.
303

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