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Kabardino-Balkaria Clamps Down on Refugees

Refugees from Chechnya cannot get residence in a neighbouring republic - even though the law is on their side.
By Kazbek Kushkhov

Chechen refugees trying to settle in Kabardino-Balkaria cannot get registered in the republic, despite backing from the highest court in the land.


Last month, the court, for the third time in just over two years, ruled that new regulations restricting the rights of immigrants were illegal under Russian law.


In most cases the incomers are Chechens taking refuge from the conflict in their native republic. They maintain that it is almost impossible to get legal residence in Kabardino-Balkaria, which lies just to the west of Chechnya.


Around 4,500 immigrants have registered officially, while at least 12,000 are continuing to live illegally, and pay regular fines to the law enforcement authorities.


Alamat Umalatov, head of a family of seven, has just paid another 50 rouble (1.65 US dollar) fine for being unregistered. “I come from Grozny and I will go back to Chechnya as soon as there is a normal life there,” he told IWPR. “I’ve lived in Kabarda with my family two years now and tried more than once to get formal residency - but without any luck.”


When this journalist, seeking some explanations for this situation, went down to Nalchik’s visa and registration department, OVIR, in the local interior ministry, there were scenes of chaos in the building. The corridors were full of Chechens complaining that they were being asked for a whole series of documents, which it was almost impossible for them to obtain.


Yet there is no legal reason why they should be put through such an ordeal. The old “propiska” compulsory registration system was scrapped in Russia in 1997, and a Russian citizen now only has to inform the local authorities that he intends to live at a certain address.


Officials at OVIR said that the tougher registration laws came from an act passed by the local parliament on December 26 last year.


The new legislation does not allow immigrants to register permanently. It instead orders the local authorities “to halt the registration of marriages if a person getting married is not permanently registered on the territory of the republic”, and also decrees that a child born to parents living in the area unofficially cannot be registered either.


Magazali Endreyev, a local parliamentary deputy and former deputy interior minister in the republic said that the new measures were adopted under duress as Kabardino-Balkaria could not cope with the flood of migrants.


He told IWPR that they had initially received thousands of Chechens, but now parliament was getting dozens of letters complaining that immigrants were taking local jobs and increasing the crime rate.


Endreyev blamed Moscow for the situation, saying it had not anticipated that its so-called “anti-terrorist campaign” in Chechnya would cause a tide of refugees in neighbouring regions.


“Someone has to give these people accommodation, work, education and medicine. But they simply abandoned them here. If this issue had been resolved sensibly at a federal level we would not be taking these extreme measures to defend the interests of our voters.”


He admits that the trouble started when the parliamentary acts were declared illegal on March 13, when the republican Supreme Court ruled that the most recent law contradicted federal legislation.


This was not the first time the court has struck down legislation which has been voted through parliament. A previous bill restricting immigration was annulled in November 2000 and another law restricting the right to be registered was cancelled in July last year.


The parliamentarians are unapologetic. “We knew that this act contradicts existing legislation and we all unanimously voted to adopt it, so as to stop, if only temporarily, the flood of immigrants, especially those from the Chechen Republic,” said Endreyev.


Kabardino-Balkaria is not alone in defying the courts. For the past eight years or so, ever since the first Chechen campaign began in 1994, the city of Moscow and its outlying region - as well as the southern areas of Krasnodar and Stavropol - have restricted registration rights for migrants. They have continued to do this despite the federal government’s strong efforts to bring regional legislation into line with its own.


The Kabardino-Balkarian parliament’s legal officer Aslan Khamukov conceded in court that the measures the assembly had adopted “are not compulsory and are of a recommendatory nature”.


But Said-Ali Abdulkhalimov, Chechnya’s representative in the republic, complained that the local law enforcement agencies enforced these “recommendations” very strictly indeed. “My fellow countrymen, who have found a second homeland here, are being forced to prove that they are citizens of Russia at every step,” he said.


“This situation is hardly going to help stabilise our region, which has enough problems as it is.”


Kazbek Kushkhov is the pseudonym of a newspaper journalist working in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria.


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