Editor’s note: After In These Times went to press, Russian authorities broke up a Chechen “March for Peace” only moments after it began, claiming the participants, mostly women and children, lacked permission to make the planned 70-day trek from Ingushetia to Moscow.
The march was organized by Russian human rights activists to raise awareness about a group of Chechen refugees who have been on a hunger strike since June to protest poor living conditions at camps in Ingushetia, where 150,000 Chechens have fled. The 1,200 mile route was was to end at the Kremlin with an appeal to end the 23-month-old war.
However, this incident comes just as Russian authorities are trying to persuade refugees that it is safe to return home. Officials estimate that 15,000 families could return to Chechnya within the next two months. But Daniil Mesherikov of the Helsinki Group insists these estimates are off the mark and that refugees will not return until they receive a guarantee of safety. “None of the initiatives to return refugees have been accompanied by security guarantees,” Mesherikov told the press. “There have been more and more frequent sweep operations in the areas where refugees are meant to return to. So, as a consequence, they prefer to live in these very difficult conditions [in the camps], in relative safety.”