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Forced evictions of displaced people lie in the dark shadows of Sochi Olympics

As Russia prepares for next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, people living in displacement for 20 years are being bulldozed away in neighbouring Ingushetia. These types of forced evictions – illegal under international law – are quietly putting hundreds of displaced people in the North Caucasus out in the cold.

[Update 5.2.2014 11:00 CET] After being forcefully evicted from the Promzhilbaza collective centre, most of the families were able to either find a place to live in Ingushetia, or had to move to other Russian regions. Eight Chechen IDP families, or 34 people, were given permission to remain on the site temporarily, and their future will be determined by a local court of the city of Karabulak on the 6th February. There is a real possibility that they will be forced to leave the Promzhilbaza site.

Forced evictions of internally displaced people (IDPs) is a long-standing concern in the North Caucasus. Evictions related to Olympics in Sochi were mostly legal, with a few well-documented exceptions . On the other hand, the forced eviction of hundreds of displaced people happening right now in in the Russian republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya are going on entirely unnoticed. Last year marked the ‘liquidation’ of collective housing centres  for these people, and today the local authorities are close to achieving their goal.

‘Liquidating’ IDP homes in Ingushetia

IDPs in the North Caucasus were often grouped into collective housing provided by local authorities; mostly run-down former dormitories, factories or makeshift temporary shelters that became permanent homes. This type of housing absorbed thousands of IDPs from Chechnya and North Ossetia fleeing from three armed conflicts back in the 1990s.

The collective centres have been the target for numerous rounds  of evictions over the past years, conducted by authorities looking to sweep IDP issues under the rug. Last year marked an intensification of the campaign to erase internal displacement from the public eye, with the leader of Ingushetia, Junus-Bek Evkurov, declaring  that ‘we must liquidate all collective centres before August.’

Vulnerable people risk becoming homeless in winter

Ethnic Chechen IDPs are particularly at risk of forced evictions in Ingushetia because there are three times  as many IDPs from Chechnya in Ingushetia as there are from North Ossetia, and they can face particular discrimination.

For example, 82 Chechen IDPs were forcefully evicted from the Promzhilbaza  collective centre, located in Karabulak, Ingushetia, just east of Sochi, in December last year. Ahead of plans to demolish Promzhilbaza  centre, the Ingush leader personally presented those IDPs from North Ossetia with housing guarantees. While these promises for housing were honoured for the North Ossetia IDPs, the Chechen residents were simply told to return to Chechnya.

The only assistance local authorities offered was a 5000 rouble (around $150) monthly stipend per family for one year, which is nowhere near enough to pay for housing outside of the substandard centre. Authorities are known to use this kind of arrangement as a tactic  to lure IDPs out of the centres only to soon stop payments. In October, some families at Promzhilbaza  agreed to the compensation  in desperation. Yet despite their commitment to move based on authorities’ promises, the government assistance never materialised.

Those at risk of eviction also have the right to challenge the decision before a court of law, but repeated attempts by Promzhilbaza  residents throughout 2013, even an appeal to the Supreme Court, proved unsuccessful. According to international standards , the eviction of Promzhilbaza  residents was clearly illegal.

Today, most of the evicted Chechen IDP families have managed to either leave Ingushetia to other parts of Russia, while a few families have been permitted to stay temporarily on the site. But soon, construction will follow destruction, and these families will be thrown off of the land completely. Despite this, there’s no guarantee that either group of vulnerable people has found long-term solutions or improved living conditions.

With freezing winter cold, authorities must ensure equal housing rights for all

The story of Promzhilbaza  is not a ‘one-off’, as displaced people in Ingushetia – as well as across the Causasus region – face illegal evictions.

With all eyes on Sochi during the Winter Games, Russian authorities should halt all such forced evictions of IDPs in the region and take immediate steps to guarantee their right to adequate housing.

IDPs and other vulnerable groups facing evictions cannot be left homeless and helpless in the Russian winter, and must be compensated for any loss of property as a consequence of these evictions, as stipulated under international human rights law. The fact that it is the dead of winter and that some of those facing evictions right now are highly vulnerable – disabled, seriously ill, or elderly -  has not deterred the authorities from literally putting people out in the cold – in places where temperatures are known to plummet to below freezing in January.

One displaced woman, a single mother who does not have enough money to find a place to live because she is trying to pay for one of her daughters’ education, spoke to IDMC from the ruins of her former home in Promzhilbaza . With the freezing winter temperatures approaching, she is not asking for much: ‘All we want is what is guaranteed to us by law – 18 square metres of space per person to live in.’

For more information, see IDMC’s country page for the Russian Federation .