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UN Concerned by Chechen Refugee Problem in Ingushetia - 2001-08-29

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is concerned by the growing number of Chechen refugees who are being evicted from their accommodations in the neighboring Russian Republic of Ingushetia.

The U.N. refugee agency says about 80 Chechen refugees were recently evicted from their settlement in Ingushetia. It says the group, which includes women, children and elderly people, was left without shelter in the town of Malgobek when the building where they had been staying was torn down.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Clark says this eviction comes just one week after a similar group of 100 people was evicted from a settlement near Nazran. "The group evictions that we are seeing is a new development," she says. "Most of the evictions that we have seen up until now have been these individual families, and we have seen a number of these group evictions in recent weeks. We are concerned that it might be a new trend and it certainly would be worrying because the displaced people are facing their third winter in Ingushetia and, of course, need accommodation."

There are about 150,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia. Many have been there for two years. Most of the people are living with host families, but others are living in campsites or spontaneous settlements, such as converted farmhouses or industrial buildings.

Ms. Clark says evictions of individual families from private homes have been occurring on an almost daily basis for years. But group evictions, she says, only began happening a couple of months ago. She says this indicates the Chechen refugees are wearing out their welcome. "We are very concerned that refugees are being forced from their accommodations," she says. "In part, because some of them may not have any other option than to return to Chechnya and we actually have heard from some people who are evicted that the reason they would choose to return is because they simply cannot afford to pay rent and cannot afford accommodation anymore in Ingushetia. Given the security situation in Chechnya, very few people are returning without this kind of pressure."

The U.N. refugee agency has been putting up tent cities to shelter displaced people. Also, in an effort to avoid evictions, UNHCR spokeswoman Clark says the agency has provided a number of settlements with building materials to improve the facilities. She says this benefits both the refugees living there as well as the owner of the site.