At the end of 2003, more than 368,000 persons remained internally displaced in Russia. These included about 194,000 in Chechnya, 67,000 in neighboring Ingushetia from the current Russian-Chechen conflict, 8,000 in neighboring Dagestan, an estimated 40,000 elsewhere in the northern Caucasus region and Moscow, some 48,000 persons displaced during the previous (1994-96) war in Chechnya (mostly ethnic Russians, who were registered as forced migrants), and more than 11,000 forced migrants in Ingushetia who were displaced in 1992 during the conflict over the disputed Prigorodnyi region of North Ossetia.

At the end of 2003, Russia hosted about 161,300 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included about 150,000 Afghans, 8,700 refugees registered with the Federal Migration Service (FMS), 300 asylum seekers whose cases were pending, about 1,100 asylum seekers from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) who were registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and 1,200 persons granted temporary protection. Refugees from Georgia comprised 80 percent of all recognized refugees. Fewer than three percent of refugees recognized since 1993 originated from outside the former Soviet Union, almost all from Afghanistan. During 2003, the FMS recognized 58 persons as refugees, 28 them Afghans.

In addition, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) considers some 13,000 stateless Meskhetian Turks in the Krasnodar region to be living in refugee-like circumstances.

More than 48,700 persons from Russia sought asylum or were refugees in other countries during 2003. These included some 37,000 asylum seekers in industrialized countries, up from about 28,000 in 2002. This figure includes about 6,700 asylum applicants in Austria, 5,600 in Poland, 4,900 in the Czech Republic, 4,400 in the United States, 3,400 in Germany, 2,000 in France, and 1,900 in Norway.

During the year, the FMS received 737 asylum applications. The agency accepted 58 cases, rejected 1,016, and held pending 272 at year's end. UNHCR continued to register and assist far-abroad asylum seekers itself, resettling more than 450, including several hundred refugees from Afghanistan and smaller numbers, mostly from Africa, whose protection was at risk. An additional 300 UNHCR-recognized refugees awaited resettlement at year's end.

About 352,000 persons registered with the FMS as "forced migrants" – overwhelmingly from countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Some are citizens and the rest are eligible to naturalize. USCR considers them to have found a durable solution.


The ongoing and largely ignored humanitarian catastrophe in Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia continued in 2003, despite government claims that the situation was normalizing and safe for return. Government claims that the war in Chechnya was to root out terrorists and Chechen rebels' own actions encouraged public fear of non-Russians.

Chechnya's capital, Grozny, remained devastated from years of bombing. Most residents lived in unsafe, damaged buildings and suffered from malnutrition, inadequate shelter, tuberculosis, Hepatitis A, and the constant risk of being uprooted once again. Widespread human rights violations continued amid sporadic clashes between the rebel forces and the Russian military and police. Few displaced persons could return permanently. At the end of 2003, about 194,000 persons remained internally displaced within Chechnya itself, out of a total population remaining within Chechnya of about 600,000.

Throughout the year, Russian authorities accelerated efforts to encourage displaced people living in tent camps in Ingushetia to move back to Chechnya. According to UNHCR, some 19,700 persons returned to Chechnya (spontaneously and with assistance from Russian authorities) during the year. Although Russian officials claim that the returns were voluntary, many were paired with measures such as cutting off food supplies, electricity, and water in the camps. With the closing of the Bella tent camp in September and the Alina camp in December, UN agencies worked to upgrade other camps and seek alternatives to promoting return, although UNHCR helped local authorities with some voluntary returns.


In Moscow regional migration officials placed asylum seekers on a pre-registration waiting list without identity documents confirming their applicant status. The waiting period lasted up to two years, leaving asylum seekers vulnerable to police harassment. According to UNHCR, Moscow authorities also routinely rejected asylum seekers as inadmissible, without actually considering the claims on admissibility grounds in the law.

Temporary Protection

At the end of 2003 about 1,200 persons, mostly Afghans, had temporary protection for up to one year for humanitarian reasons, but many fear losing the status because Russia reportedly considers Afghanistan safe for return.

USCR counts recipients of temporary protection in Russia along with refugees and asylum seekers because the manifest and documented infirmities of the Russian asylum process may preclude substantial numbers of bona fide refugees from using it to acquire protection.

Meskhentian Turks

At year's end, the legal status of some 13,000 Meskhetian Turks in Russia's Krasnodar region had not been resolved. Although officials from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow have visited Krasnodar to assess the possibility of resettling them to the United States, no decision had been announced by year's end.


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