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Closure of Chechen refugee camps could endanger safe haven principle UN

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In a meeting yesterday in Geneva with Ingushetia’s President, Murat Zyazikov, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers voiced his concern over a recent announcement by Russian officials that the three remaining tented camps will be closed prior to presidential elections in the Russian Federation in March.Mr. Lubbers was reassured by Mr. Zyazikov, who said he was personally committed to respecting the principle of voluntary return, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told a news briefing in Geneva today. Nearly 66,800 people fleeing the fighting in neighbouring Chechnya are registered for assistance in Ingushetia, with most of them in temporary settlements or private accommodation, but 7,069 people are still registered in three tented camps. Mr. Lubbers reiterated his wish to promote a positive engagement of the international humanitarian community through a two-pronged approach in which safe haven would be guaranteed in Ingushetia for those not wishing to return, while those returning of their own free choice would receive increased support from humanitarian agencies operating at a higher level in Chechnya. Representatives of the Chechnya administration have been soliciting applications for compensation for destroyed housing and lost property in Chechnya. Planned at approximately $10,000 per family, such compensation – if actually paid – would constitute a major incentive for return, but the authorities acknowledge that a number of refugees will choose to remain in Ingushetia or elsewhere. While the refugees continue to cite insecurity in Chechnya as their primary reservation to return, lack of shelter there is also a major constraint, Mr. Janowski said.

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