About CAN
Mission Statement
Our mission and values
Our Goals
Awareness and assistance
Our Activities
Advocacy, air and outreach
Local groups and project teams
Join CAN
Get involved
The Conflict
Political and military aspects
Human Rights
Documentation, reports, legal issues
Context, facts and oral traditions
Who are the Chechens
Ethnography, language, religion and culture
Humanitarian Crisis
Conditions, needs and aid efforts
Exile communities, asylum politics and advice
Organizations working on Chechnya, Chechen websites and publications
Media and Books
Relevant news websites, newsgroups, and documentaries, further reading and book reviews
Отдел на Русском Языке 
Совет Беженцам
Юридические справки и практический совет беженцам

Refugees and Diaspora

Massive and repeated displacement within Russia and exile abroad have been among the most dramatic and historic consequences of the wars in Chechnya. Almost every Chechen has experienced displacement and the problems that come with it, such as poverty, cramped housing and lives that have been disrupted and put on hold.
New reports on refugees/IDPs

Silence Kills:Abuse of Chechen Refugees in Georgia A human-rights focused report about the Chechen refugee community in Georgia, prepared by the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (HRIDC), a Tbilisi-based NGO (January 2007)

Chechen Migration and Integration in Ukraine A working paper prepared by Fulbright research fellow Mariah Levin in cooperation with UNHCR and HIAS. Ukraine is the main transit country for Chechen refugees traveling to Europe (November 2006)

Chechen Refugees in Baku, Azerbaijan - A needs assessment A comprehensive, research-based assessment of the situation of Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan, by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the main non-governmental aid provider to Chechens in Azerbaijan (April 2006)

An uncertain future: The Challenges of Return and Reintegration for Internally Displaced Persons in the North Caucasus A detailed report on the human rights and socio-economic conditions of Chechen and other IDPs in the North Caucasus region, including those diplaced by the Ingush-Ossetian conflict, by the Norwegian Refugee Council and Memorial
(October 2006)

The situation of Chechen asylum seekers and refugees in Poland and effects of the EU Dublin II Regulation An investigative report on the situation of Chechen asylum seekers in Poland, the main reception country for Chechens arriving Europe, by a consortium of German refugee aid organization (February 2005, based on research from 2004)


After more than a decade of war and lawlessness, hundreds of thousands of Chechens have left Chechnya and moved to other parts of Russia, the former Soviet Union and other countries. Spontaneous outmigration peaked, not surprisingly, during the bloodiest phases of the two wars, but the overwhelming majority of these internally displaced persons or IDPs went to Ingushetia, other parts of Russia or simply safer locations within Chechnya. Yet there has also been a slower but constant stream of Chechens leaving Chechnya for good, even before the start of the first war. Many Chechens have moved to Moscow and other Russian cities to start businesses or protect their families from the decline in safety and public services in Chechnya. Smaller numbers left for the West or the Gulf States.

Between the two wars, when the Maskhadov government failed to provide even basic security to the residents of Chechnya, tens of thousands of Chechens again moved away, most of them to Moscow. A small exile community of mostly former separatist leaders and better-off Chechens had by then received asylum in Western Europe, particularly in Belgium, France and Norway.

A rise in refugee numbers since 2003:
In 2003, when the main fighting of the second war was already over, larger numbers of Chechens started coming to Europe and applying for asylum there. In 2003, some 33,000 Russian citizens (over 90% of them presumed to be Chechens) applied for asylum in Europe, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, making them the largest group of new refugees arriving in developed nations.

Analyzing the numbers:
These numbers remained about the same for 2004. In 2005, they dropped slightly to 27,000. Although the final numbers for 2006 are not yet available, UNHCR statistics for the first two quarters of the year suggest a drop by about 25%. It is difficult to say whether these numbers reflect the reality of Chechen migration to Europe. They may be higher, since some countries do not count minors who arrive with their parents, and in some cases, Chechens have joined relatives abroad without ever applying for asylum (either through formal family reunification procedures or without acquiring legal status). They may be lower, because many refugees apply for asylum in more than one country and are counted separately each time. And there is anecdotal evidence that Russian-speakers from a variety of Russian regions and other countries claim to be Chechens upon arriving in Europe, because they believe this will increase their chances of getting asylum.

One explanation for the 2003 surge of Chechen asylum-seekers arriving abroad, at a time when major combat operations had largely ceased, is the process of "Chechenization", which empowered former separatist Ahmed Kadyrov and subsequently his son Ramzan as de-facto leaders of Chechnya. Chechen refugees indicate that they fear local Chechen security services more than Russian troops, because their superior knowledge of the community allows them to identify and persecute former rebel fighters or political opponents, and they do so more ruthlessly. Another explanation is that after a decade of war and lawlessness, many Chechens have given up hope of ever rebuilding a normal life at home and instead try to start a new life in exile. Indeed, one of the most frequent reasons for going into exile quoted by Chechen refugees is the desire to give their children a chance to have a normal, peaceful future.

The end of multi-ethnic Chechnya:
In another significant development, Chechnya has also lost almost all of its former non-Chechen population. At the end of the Soviet period, several hundreds of thousands of Chechnya's residents belonged to different ethnic groups - most of them Russians, but also Armenians, Ingush, Georgians, Ukrainians and many more, concentrated in the vibrant urban center of Grozny. This multi-ethnic Grozny has long ceased to exist. Under the separatist leadership of the pre-war period, many non-ethnic Chechens found themselves threatened by criminal elements and faced with an indifferent government that showed no intention to protect them. Many of the educated elites also lost their positions in government, industry and academia to locals connected with those in power. The ensuing exodus of some 300,000 non-ethnic Chechens represents the tragic end of a once peacefully diverse community and a dramatic brain-drain that continues to impede Chechnya's efforts to rebuild. The often negative experiences of Chechnya's former residents, exploited by Russian media and politicians, also became a major factor for anti-Chechen sentiment in Russia.

Key issues - internal displacement and safe return:
For a long time the presence of Chechen internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ingushetia was the main symbol of displacement caused by the wars, especially the second war. The number of IDPS in Chechnya reached around 250,000 at the onset of the second war, increasing the native population of the small republic of Ingushetia by more than 50%. Ingushetia became an area of massive international aid operations that provided these IDPs with shelter, food and other services. Since 2002, IDPs in Ingushetia had been pressured to leave their camps and return to Chechnya, in spite of the persistent violence there at the time. Over the past years a gradual return has indeed taken place. As of early 2007, less than 20,000 IDPs remain in Ingushetia and many of them are expected to integrate locally rather than return to Chechnya. The international aid effort has shifted to Chechnya, where those who have returned from Ingushetia have often been unable to move back into their destroyed homes. As a result more than 100,000 people are today IDPs within Chechnya, most of whom live in substandard housing and poverty.

IDP girl (© Tamara Chagaeva)

Chechen refugees in Georgia and Azerbaijan:
In Azerbaijan, the Chechen community was estimated around 8,000 strong until about 2005, after which it was reassessed and found to be less than 3,000. Many Chechen refugees appear to have returned home, despite the persistent security risks in Chechnya, because of the desperate economic and social conditions that prevail among the refugee community. The government of Azerbaijan has never recognized them as refugees and they are thus without proper legal status, unable to seek employment or receive public welfare. Instead, they are provided with protection letters by the local UNHCR office. While there are some humanitarian programs to assist these refugees (by UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council and UMCOR), the overall situation of this refugee community is extremely dire. Although several dozen families were resettled to third countries, this appears increasingly unlikely for the rest of the community. Chechens in Georgia have generally been granted refugee status on a prima facie basis (i.e. without having to prove persecution). There are several hundred Chechen refugees registered in Georgia today. However, beyond that the Georgian government's treatment of these refugees has been problematic. In order to be eligible for humanitarian aid they are forced to reside in the remote and impoverished Pankisi Gorge, and they have been subject to harassment by the police. Both Azerbaijan and Georgia have extradited Chechen refugees to Russia in violation of their obligations under international law. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Georgia violated the rights of the extradited Chechens.

Implications for Chechens at home and abroad:
What are the implications of these refugee flows and diaspora life? First, these refugees have to fend with European asylum systems, an often bewildering experience in which some benefit from speedy and comfortable protection, while other, no less deserving, refugees are left out in the cold. In western Europe, which has received the greatest number of Chechen refugees, the differences in treatment of Chechen refugees are stark, so much so that the process of applying for asylum in Europe has been compared to a lottery. According to EU law, moreover, refugees are not free to apply for asylum in their country of choice, but may only do so in one country, most often the country they first entered. Since most Chechen refugees are either unaware of these regulations or hope to find a way around them, they are often subject to repeated transfers and needless delays. In the 1990s and the first years of the second war Chechens arrived in Europe in small numbers and generally received asylum without complications. This liberal policy has for the most part been reversed, and countries like Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and France today usually grant only temporary protection status or deny asylum except in special cases. The reasons behind this include a Europe-wide shift towards stricter immigration policies, a perceived "improvement" of the situation in Chechnya, as well as concerns about large, compact migrant communities and the political and financial liability they could become. Some countries, like Austria or Belgium, are defying this trend and continue to grant permanent asylum to most Chechen refugees. While most Chechens who arrive in Europe are ultimately allowed to stay, if often under humanitarian or non-refoulement protection, they may have to wait up to several years for a final decision and their final status may be only temporary or exclude them from some welfare programs.

Second, there is the impact on Chechen society itself. A closely-linked, often insular community with practices and rules that favor self-segregation, many Chechen refugees are finding it difficult to cope with the new experience of diaspora life. The reactions range from enthusiastic embrace of the opportunities and freedom offered by life in Europe or the US (a small, but growing Chechen community exists in the latter), to severe isolation and fears about the loss of identity and social customs. This struggle is reflected in Chechen media and websites, where some commentators welcome the educational opportunities for Chechen children and youth and appreciate the benefits of the rule of law, while others mourn a perceived loss of cohesion, control and traditions. Because as many as 10% of the Chechen population may by now live abroad, all of Chechen society is affected: in this tight-knit community, everyone now has relatives or friends living abroad, and the experiences of the latter reverberate back home.

Our role:
The Chechnya Advocacy Network recognizes that diaspora life and its implications for the future of the Chechen people are increasingly central to the Chechens' story.
We advocate for fair treatment of Chechen asylum-seekers in Europe and elsewhere, consideration of certain refugee populations for resettlement programs, and help Chechen refugees with their asylum procedures and with adapting to their new lives. Integration of the large and recent Chechen communities in Europe is an area of particular concern for us due to many European countries' failure to integrate previously arrived migrant groups in a positive way. Since the Chechen diaspora community is starting to become more organized and active, we are ready to help them improve their capacities and become more effective.



Sources and Materials:

Guidelines on the Treatment of Chechen IDPs, Asylum Seekers& Refugees in Europe
Policy Guidelines prepared by ECRE, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles

Whose Responsibility?
Comprehensive, data-based report by the Norwegian Refugee Council on the situation of Chechen IDPs in Russia and Chechen refugees in Europe (May 2005)

CAN coverage on "Whose Responsibility" and interview with its author, Anne Marit Austbo

ECRE/Norwegian Refugee Council:Report from seminar on IDPs from Chechnya Summary of conference on Chechen IDPs and refugees held in Moscow in August 2004, with participants from European and Russian refugees aid organizations.

"Gender and Family Relationships among Chechens in a Czech Refugee Camp" - Alice Szczepanikova, 2004
Alice Szczepanikova is a PhD
student at the Department of Gender Studies at the Central European University. She focuses on gender aspects of forced migration and has spent three years working in Czech refugee camps as a social worker. The above text is her MA thesis.

"The right not to return: the situation of displaced Chechens dispersed in the Russian Federation" Matthew Naumann, August 2003
(Matthew Naumann worked as an intern in Moscow and Nazran for the Centre for Peacemaking and Community Development, a Chechen/ Russian/ English NGO, in summer 2002. He wrote this thesis pursuant to an LLM in International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex in 2003.)

Subscribe to CAN
To receive weekly email updates, news, etc., please enter your email address.

© Copyright 2004, Zachary Hutchinson
Contact Webmaster