Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Grozny Returnees Remain Penniless

Thousands of Chechens who've returned home from Ingushetia have not received promised housing compensation.
By Natalya Estemirova

At the entrance to the well-renovated five-storey brick apartment block in the centre of Grozny, two security guards ask strangers where they are going.

The former Chechen State University hall of residence has been turned into a temporary accommodation centre for Chechens returning to their native republic from the camps of Ingushetia, where they fled at the beginning of the second Chechen conflict in 1999.

On June 7 the authorities finally closed down the last tent encampment in Ingushetia, Satsita camp - although thousands of Chechens remain in makeshift accommodation there.

Many more have come back to an uncertain life in Grozny - and many of those are unhappy with what they have found. More than 1,500 are living in this old student hostel.

A good number of the returnees complain that they were induced to return by the promise of compensation for the houses they lost in the fighting - but have received nothing.

"They moved us and promised that we would get compensation but in reality it didn't happen," said 44-year-old Zaina Gatsieva. "I got the notification and they opened bank account but there is no money in it, I have been waiting since February. They don't tell us why there is no money, just say that Moscow didn't transfer the money."

Zaina, who moved from Ingushetia to the centre, not far from her destroyed former home, about a year ago, also complains that they have no sanitation or running water, although they were promised both.

The warden of the centre Said Isayev responded indignantly, "Who has them? Show me at least one building in Grozny where there is sanitation. It's because town services do not work. We don't have resources for processing sewage. And no water as at present we have to buy it."

Isayav appeaers to have little sympathy for the centre's residents, " Kings' live here, almost all of them have houses and cars. Why do they live here? [Because] it's easier to live, hands in pockets and stand eating sunflower seeds. Today they received flour, sugar, condensed milk and stewed meat. Every morning bread arrives, what else do they need. They have a good life as they don't need to do anything."

According to Isaev, people at the centre who received compensation for their ruined houses will have to start moving out. But the human rights organisation Memorial warns that some are being evicted after being notified that they will receive money, which never appears.

Memorial had a visit in February from Luiza Tazurkayeva, who was told she had received compensation. She and 13 others were ordered to vacate the centre to make room for others. But no money ever appeared in the bank. When Memorial called Lyoma Bichuyev, deputy head of the migration department, to find out further details, he said that everything had been done correctly. When it was put to him that to make someone homeless in winter was unconstitutional, he replied, "Oh well, who observes the constitution here?"

Movsar Kindarov, a 51-year-old former driver, moved to Grozny from Ingushetia last year. His home in Chechnya is in ruins. When he received news of compensation he thought he was one of the lucky ones.

"When we lived in tents, all sorts of people came to us and promised us housing, help, compensation," he said. "All we got was somewhere to live. Four months ago I was notified that I'd received compensation, so I opened a bank account. When I went to find out if it had come or not, people from the migration commission came and brazenly offered to do a 50-50 deal on my money."

Kindarov refused to pay a bribe and said that his money has been held up ever since. "They are just tormenting us," he said. "They've driven us here like horses, knowing we have nowhere else to go."

Memorial said that the Russian government, in concert with local officials, has been pursing a highly political policy of getting rid of embarrassing camps in Ingushetia regardless of the conditions the refugees were coming back to in Chechnya and the security situation in the republic.

This year has seen more violence in Chechnya compared to last year.

As for the receipt of compensation, Lyoma Kaplanov of the migration department admitted that many people were waiting to be paid. "So far out of 74,000 applications submitted only 9,000 have been checked in Moscow," he said.

Meanwhile, the housing situation has been put under further strain because Grozny residents made homeless by the floods of 2002 say that pre-fabricated houses built for them have been given to refugees from Ingushetia.

"We have already been waiting for two years, either for the roof to be completed, or something else," one of the victims Zura Abdullayeva told IWPR.

Jobs are also extremely scarce and many of the returnees say the only way to get one is to pay a large bribe. "I used to work for the ministry of trade, now I can get a job there only by paying a huge amount of money," complained 48-year old Magomed Turayev.

UN coordinator for humanitarian issues in Russia, Kasidis Rochanakorn, who recently visited the North Caucasus, is worried about the situation. "I am concerned with the ability of the Chechen Republic to absorb such a number of returning people," he said in an interview to Interfax. "First of all from the point of view of the possibility to provide these people with work. But I hope that with the help of federal structures necessary infrastructure will be created."

Natalya Estemirova works for the human rights group Memorial. Aslambek Badilaev is a journalist with the newspaper Zov Zemli.