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Chechen Refugee Repatriation – When Politics Top the Agenda

Following the diplomatic row, Russia and Georgia seems to have come to the consensus regarding the need of repatriating some 7000 Chechen refugees currently residing in Georgia’s Pankisi gorge. However, this determination of the governments may come across the resistance of the refugees themselves, as well as the principles of the international law.

On February 5 Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Minister of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation Sergei Shoigu to develop within one week a special plan of return of the Chechen refugees from Georgia to Russia.

The Russian and Georgian sides agreed on joint activities for repatriation of the refugees during the visit of the Secretary of the National Security Council of the Russian Federation Vladimir Rushailo to Tbilisi on January 29-30.

The Georgian officials welcomed decision of the Russian side to start activities for repatriation of the refugees, expecting to put an end to numerous accusations in harboring Chechen terrorists. However, many experts believe that repatriation is connected to numerous problems.

First of all the refugees must be assured in their safety upon return. According to the principles of the customary international law, no country could expel or return the person to the territory, where his/her life can be endangered. Daily reports on bombings and violence from Chechnya cast serious doubts on assurances of safety provided by the Russian officials to their Chechen citizens.

Georgian Ministry for Refugees and Accommodation says that the refugees in Pankisi are not assured of their safety. “Attitude towards repatriation is very negative among the refugees at present. They have many doubts about their return. Everything depends on what the Russian side will promise to them. Here, first of all, I mean guarantees of security and the compensation policy,” says Irakli Pirtskhalava from the Ministry for Refugees and Accommodation.

Khizri Aldamov, representative of Chechen-Kist Diaspora in Georgia is much more straightforward: “Military operations still continue in Chechnya. Populated areas are being bombed continuously. In such conditions return of the refugees to Chechnya will be dangerous for them,” he says

Official Tbilisi expresses complete readiness to cooperate with Russia for smooth implementation of the repatriation process. Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze says, that cooperation in this matter might have positive impact on the relations of the two countries in general.

As the Russian mass media informs, the Russian officials have already initiated primary activities for return of the refugees. “The Ministry of Emergency has mobilized enough personnel and vehicles to ensure return of the refugees without any hindrance,” said Deputy Minister of Emergency Situations of Chechen Republic Vasili Eshchenko on February 6.

Eshchenko also informed that 12 residential buildings are being restored in Grozno, capital of Chechnya to accommodate 9,000 refugees.

But there in Pankisi still are persons, who fought against the Russian federal forces. The Georgian government has officially admitted their presence in Pankisi. Moscow says that the repatriation process will require maximum attention because the fighters might return back to Chechnya with the refugees.

Residents of Akhmeta district demand rapid repatriation of the refugees. They blame refugees and Chechen fighters for creating criminal enclave in the gorge.

By Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia

Related Stories:

Russian, Georgian Security Bosses Pledge Mutual Understanding
The Operation Goes On as Protests Widen in Pankisi
Pankisi Gorge – A Criminal Enclave
Georgian Officials Prepare to Tackle Pankisi Gorge Problem


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