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UN Concerned About Moscow's Decision to Close Chechnya Refugee Camps - 2002-07-12

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has protested to authorities in Moscow about the closure of two camps for displaced people in the Russian republic of Chechnya. The agency says it is concerned those in the camp may not have been fully informed of their options.

The two tent camps in Znamenskoe, in Chechnya, housed more than 2,000 displaced people. Russian officials closed the two camps about two weeks ago.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says the agency is concerned about circumstances surrounding the closures. He says the agency also has questions about the move of camp residents to temporary accommodation centers in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

"We are very concerned about the character of this move," Mr. Janowski said, "whether it was voluntary or not. We have learned that the displaced people were not fully informed about their option to remain where they were and they were not told exactly where they were going. "

The refugee agency and other international aid agencies do not have a permanent presence in Chechnya because of the volatile situation there. However, Mr. Janowski says the UNHCR, as part of a larger U.N. team, went to the camps this week to assess the situation. He says the team found one of the camps dismantled and the other almost empty, with just a few tents remaining.

The UNHCR spokesman says a high-level U.N. mission has gone to Grozny Friday to express its concerns to the local Russian authorities. In addition, he says, U.N. officials have raised concerns and questions about the closing of the two camps to authorities in Moscow.

He says the return of displaced Chechens to their homes must be voluntary. He says forced returns are not acceptable.