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Russia: Refugees From Chechen War Living On Pig Farm

Only some 12,000 of the 200,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia live in camps set up by Russian authorities that benefit from the aid of international humanitarian organizations. The great majority of Chechen refugees in the neighboring republic live with relatives, friends or on abandoned farms. In the second of a two-part series on the refugees, RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini reports on one refugee group's travails setting up house on a former pig farm.

Sleptsovsk, Ingushetia; 23 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- More than 90 percent of the estimated 200,000 Chechen refugees in Ingushetia live outside the makeshift camps set up by the Russians and are often by-passed by humanitarian aid organizations. Most of them were deemed ineligible for official refugee status because they lacked the proper documents. Some of them have found refuge with relatives and friends, others have to make their own way -- and it's far from an easy one.

Take, for example, the 80 Chechen refugees living on an abandoned farm just outside of Troitsky, a village near the Chechen border. Through holes in a long gray wall, the stalls of an old animal farm are discernible. Inside the wall, the 80 refugees live in the farm's old pig stalls.

Last winter, the Ingush owner of the farm allowed some 500 refugees to settle there. Now, only 22 families are left, the others having moved little by little to camps.

"At least, we got rid of the stench," says Liza, opening the door to 10 square meters at the entrance of one of the three long stalls where she lives with her three children and the community's administrator. When the refugees moved in, they ripped out the stalls' wooden floors for firewood, filling their homes with the stench of pig excrement.

The pig sty's entrance is the best place to live, Liza says -- even though the entrance doesn't have any windows because the stalls' window panes are all broken and the wood to cover them have been burned as firewood. Most of the other families have a similar arrangement. Only Abdul Jaffar from the Chechen village of Samashki, as a respected elder, has a different sort of home. His family lives in what looks like a former brick silo. But it has no windows either, and wasps swarm from a nest in the corner.

The Chechen women say bugs are the biggest problem. They wash their living quarters daily with a chlorine-like liquid that is meant to kill flees but also burns the throat and eyes.

Abdul Jaffar -- an outspoken, wrinkled man 60 years old -- insists that water is the main problem because of sanitary conditions he describes as "critical."

"Every person needs about four buckets of water a day. This is, after all, a former pig-farm, and it will be dirty for years to come -- bugs, fleas, cockroaches and what have you. Also, we have to wash ourselves and our clothes."

Jaffar says that even though the group has a tin roof over their heads, they are regularly overlooked by aid organizations.

"For a month-and-a-half, there wasn't any bread. Now there is some every three or four days. Our administrator worked it out, but we still get it all with difficulty. And water remains a problem. The water is delivered [by the International Red Cross]. Once they didn't bring water for seven days. So [we took some] out of the [nearby] Sunzha river, but it's very polluted -- the sewers end up there. Then we didn't have water for five days, for six days. They should bring water at least every two days!"

Jaffar suggests that one way to improve the situation would be for aid organizations to employ more refugees -- instead of Ingush natives -- to do the job, since the refugees are directly concerned by the problem.

The community's men depend on small and irregular payments from construction work. The going rate is a little more than $1 (30 rubles) per square meter of cement laid in a building foundation. In addition, the men also have to compete with the local Ingush, who also lack work.

One of the community's women, Zina, tries to made a joke about what she calls the refugees' "national dish" -- based on flour and water.

"There wasn't any bread at all. Some Danes [working for an aid organization] brought flour. So we lived off the flour -- baked flat bread, or 'pelmeni' [Russian ravioli] if a piece of meat comes our way, or [if not] ravioli with potatoes."

But Abdul Jaffar is afraid they might lose the little they have. The state claims the pig farm owes some $1,700 (48,000 rubles) in electricity and gas bill arrears and has threatened to cut off both utilities. The pig farm's owner refuses to pay, arguing that he has done enough by giving the refugees shelter. He is now trying to convince Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry to pay the bills.

To make matters even worse, early this month Russian authorities came by and tried to convince the refugees to go back home to Chechnya. Representatives of General Viktor Kazantsev -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the North Caucasus -- visited the group and offered to swap their pig farm for a tent camp in Chechnya. He promised that the Russian soldiers would stay in special garrisons, and wouldn't touch the population.

The residents of the old pig farm did not find that a convincing argument. The latest news churning through the refugees' rumor mill in Ingushetia is that Russian Interior Ministry troops surrounded the Chechen village of Gekhi with tanks two weeks ago. According to the story, troops then took away boys, men and even three women in a "cleansing" operation -- as the Russians call their hunt for rebels among Chechen civilians.