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UN Concerned For Chechens Deprived Of Heating Gas

UN Refugee Agency Voices Concern For Chechens Deprived Of Heating Gas

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced concern about displaced Chechens in neighbouring Ingushetia following week-old cuts in heating gas to 10 temporary settlements with over 2,000 people who also face the threatened suspension of water and electricity supplies.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was working with UN partners and the Russian authorities to urgently resolve the situation.

“UNHCR believes that whatever the pretext, it is unacceptable to cut utilities – particularly heating gas – in mid-winter,” agency spokesman Kris Janowski told a news briefing in Geneva. “These unfortunate utility cuts exert pressure on the IDPs [internally displaced persons] to go back to Chechnya and bring into question the voluntary nature of the return.”

Attempts to put pressure on displaced Chechens to go back to Chechnya have been criticized by the Russian President's Human Rights Commission, which visited Ingushetia at the end of January, Mr. Janowski pointed out. The commission recommended that no deadlines be imposed on the return to Chechnya, arguing that inviting the displaced to go back would be premature.

The UNHCR spokesman recalled that Ingushetia’ authorities have on numerous occasions stated that IDPs would not suffer cuts in basic services.

As of mid-February, more than 65,000 refugees from Chechnya were registered for assistance in Ingushetia in the database the Danish Refugee Council, which is UNHCR's implementing partner. Of this total, over 5,600 persons were registered in three tented camps, some 24,000 in temporary settlements, and more than 35,000 in private accommodation.

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