Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in North Ossetia and Ingushetia

  • Author: Egbert Wessenlink
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    1 March 1994


There are at the moment (early 1994) over 100,000 refugees and internally displaced persons in the two autonomous Caucasian republics of North Ossetia and Ingushetia. (For reasons of simplicity this paper will not distinguish between refugees and IDP's but use the word refugee for all who have left their original places of residence due to conflicts and forced migration.) Both republics form part of the Russian Federation and responsibility for the refugees is shared between the competent local authorities and the Russian Federation Migration Office.

The stream of refugees into North Ossetia and Ingushetia is the result of two conflicts, between Ossetians and Georgians over the status of South Ossetia, Republic of Georgia, and between Ossetians and Ingush over the status of Prigorodniy rayon, a region inside North Ossetia.

One can distinguish four connected refugee movements:

Firstly: in 1990 and the beginning of 1991, tens of thousands of Ossetians fled South Ossetia because of the civil war in South Ossetia.

Secondly: in retaliation for the chasing away of the majority of the Georgian population from South Ossetia, Ossetians had to leave Georgia early in 1991, sometimes after an initial stay in South Ossetia. Many were resettled in Prigorodniy rayon, North Ossetia (Russia Briefing, 22 September 1993).

Thirdly: as a result of the civil war in Prigorodniy rayon, tens of thousands of Ingush fled North Ossetia for Ingushetia in October/November 1992.

Fourthly: in a parallel movement, over 4,000 Ossetians fled Prigorodniy rayon for Vladikavkaz or other places in North Ossetia.

The actual population movements were more complicated than this. Some of the fleeing people went to other regions inside the Russian Federation than their "national" republics. Unknown numbers arrived in Moscow, others went to family all over the CIS. There are no reliable figures about these population flows as not everybody has registered as a refugee with the local branches of the Russian Federation Migration Office. Population movements to other republics inside the CIS are believed to be insignificant compared to those mentioned above.

The conflicts made other people than ethnic Ingush and Ossetians flee as well. There are Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Armenians and others all over the former Soviet Union. Most of them have left their original places of residence in the disputed areas, but there exist no reliable statistics on their numbers. North Ossetia is known to be the only North Caucasus republic with a net increase of Russian-speakers since 1990 (BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 4 February 1994, quoting Ostankino Channel 1 TV).


All statistics on refugees in North Ossetia and Ingushetia are disputed. Host republics tend to give higher numbers than the republics of origin. The following figures exist:

2.1 South Ossetia Exodus

According to contemporary claims by the North Ossetian authorities, about 50,000 Ossetians fled South Ossetia late 1990 and early 1991. Starting July 1992 large numbers returned to their places of origin.

2.2 Refugees in North Ossetia

The North Ossetian authorities claimed that 80,000 Ossetians arrived from Georgia in 1990/1991. The Georgian authorities mentioned a figure of just over 20,000 Ossetian emigrants. There have been returns to Georgia from July 1992 onwards, after Shevardnadze and Yeltsin signed the Dagomys agreement on a peaceful settlement for South Ossetia, but exact figures on these returns cannot be obtained. It is believed that by August 1992, some 2,000 Ossetians had resettled in Tschinvali (capital of South Ossetia) alone. Some of them have taken possession of houses that formerly belonged to Georgians (Wesselink, 1992).

The actual number of refugees in North Ossetia by 1992 is believed to have exceeded 100,000 (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 8 July 1992; Izvestia, 16 June 1992). The total North Ossetian population, at the census in 1989, was 632,428, of whom 53% were ethnic Ossetians (Henze, 1991). Most refugees were initially to settle in Vladikavkaz and its suburbs.

According to Eric Durst, ICRC representative in Nalchik (telephone interview, 28 March 1994), there were still 46,000 refugees in North Ossetia by January 1994. The Director of the North Ossetian Human Research Institute, Lev Dzugaev Bartuevitch, mentions a figure of 45,000 (letter to the author, 7 April 1994). The actual number could be higher as not all refugees are properly registered. Most live with family, some have taken over houses in Vladikavkaz and Prigorodniy rayon that used to belong to Ingush people (telephone interview with Eric Durst, 28 March 1994). The figure of just over 40,000 by early 1994 is confirmed by other sources (Russia Briefing, 22 September 1993).

2.3 Refugees in Ingushetia

Estimates of the actual number of refugees in Ingushetia vary from 31,000 (North Ossetian authorities) to over 70,000 (Ingushetia authorities), with the Russian Federation Migration Office using a figure of 51,200 (letter to the author from Lev Dzugaev, quoting Vestnik Vremennoy Administratsiy, 17 July 1993). In 1992-1993, 70,951 persons became officially registered as refugees in Ingushetia (letter of the Permanent Representative of the Republic Ingushetia in Moscow, Chadschi-Murat Chamchojev, to the author, 2 March 1994).

Officially, in 1989 there were 32,783 Ingush living in North Ossetia (Henze, 1991, 164). Extrapolating from this figure, the real number could have been 36,000 by the time the conflict started. The actual figures must have been considerably higher if all Ingush who claim refugee status in Ingushetia originate from North Ossetia. Maybe the discrepancy between these two numbers can be explained by the fact that since 5 March 1982, by USSR government's decree #183, immigrating citizens of Ingush nationality were banned from residence registration (propiska) in Prigorodniy rayon (Colarusso, 1993). It is not possible to verify how many Ingush lived in North Ossetia in 1992 without propiska.

The Guardian quotes an aid worker saying that up to 50,000 Ingush had fled to the hills (11 November 1992), while the ITAR-TASS news agency claimes that some 40,000 refugees from North Ossetia had reached Ingushetia (28 November 1992). The Federal Migration Service had by then registered over 27,000 Ingush refugees. Russia Briefing mentions a number of 60,000 refugees by November 1992 (22 September 1993).

The matter of numbers if further complicated by the disagreement on the number of Ingush still living in North Ossetia. Russia Briefing claims that by September 1993 3,500 were still living in Mozdok rayon, and the villages Kartsa, Cermen, and Maiskoye in Prigorodniy rayon (22 September 1993). The North Ossetian Human Research Institute claims that 4,700 Ingush never left these places and that another 4,500 returned there during 1993, bringing the total number of Ingush refugees in Ingushetia by January 1994 to 27,100 (letter to the author from the Director, Lev Dzugaev Bartuevitch, 7 April 1994).

2.4 Refugees from Prigorodniy

Initially, the North Ossetian authorities registered 4,413 Ossetian refugees from Prigorodniy rayon by December 1992. Most of them are believed to have returned to their homes while 1,000-odd have not been able to do so, either because their houses were destroyed or because of the continuing danger in the region (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 1992; Russia Briefing, 22 September 1993).


Ingushetia was totally unprepared to receive the massive influx of refugees.

The circumstances are particularly bad for the educated Ingush elite from Grozniy and Vladikavkaz who are now refugees in Ingushetia. Their desperation for jobs explains the intense competition and constant change of staff in the current Ingush administration. (...) As for the refugee farmers from Prigorodniy, they have almost no chance of work. (...)

Neither the Ingush nor the Ossetian administrations have even a fraction of the funds required to maintain their respective refugee population. Ingushetia consists of 160,000 people and 60,000 refugees - a ratio that would be unmanageable anywhere in the world. ... Ingushetia has had barely any administration to speak of for a year, and in the days of the Chechen-Ingush Republic before Dudayev came along, the Ingush areas were considered backwater.

(Russia Briefing, 22 September 1993).

There are two socially and culturally distinguished groups of refugees. On the one hand there are the urban Ingush, predominantly with a workers background but also counting doctors, civil servants and intellectuals, and on the other side there are those with a rural background. The same goes for the Ossetian refugees from Georgia. Ossetians in Georgia outside South Ossetia were mostly urban dwellers while refugees from South Ossetia have a mixed rural and urban background. It must be noted that the Ingush elite of Grozniy and Vladikavkaz are socially and professionally superior to those originating from Nazran, but that the latter group holds most power positions. This causes tensions (Ibid.).

Before October 1992 Ingushetia counted just over 230,000 inhabitants. The arrival of 70,000 refugees represents a considerable burden for a region that was already considered one of the poorest in the CIS. There are 143,665 adults between 18 and 65 years in Ingushetia, of whom 80,940 are unemployed. Virtually all adult refugees, 34,017, are registered as unemployed. The Ingush authorities expect the level of unemployment to reach 56% in 1994 (letter to the author from the Permanent Representative of the Republic Ingushetia in Moscow, Chadschi-Murat Chamchojev, 2 March 1994).

The minimum monthly pension and minimum wage in Ingushetia are set at 4,500Rb. per month, compared with 14,000Rb. in the Russian Republic. Nazran is an insignificant city without the services and institutions that one can normally find in a capital. Ingushetia has no major hospital, no institutes for higher learning and an underdeveloped infrastructure. Many refugees have no alternative but to turn to illegal activities (Russia Briefing, 22 September 1992).

Ingushetia's road and rail connections with other republics are partly blocked. The most important axes run through North Ossetia, where bandits and irregular armed units prevent traffic from reaching Ingushetia (telephone interview with Ferdinand D'Hondt, representative of the Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte in Moscow, 2 March 1994).

Major-General Magomed Sultygov, then head of the provisional administration in North Ossetia and Ingushetia, told Izvestia (2 March 1993): "At least nine out of 10 deportees unequivocally want to return home." The refugees have refused all compromise. Initially, they even refused to use the prefabricated houses that Russia had sent. Since Yeltsin's December 1993 decree on the return of refugees and the resettlement of those who occupy their homes, there have been numerous efforts by Ingush to return to the abandoned villages, but the Ossetian population and irregular units have attacked the convoys and chased them away, despite the presence of Russian Army escorts (Izvestia, 19 January 1994).

The Russian Federation offers help to the refugees. Thousands of prefabricated wooden houses were shipped to Ingushetia in 1992. Over 1993, the Russian Federation earmarked 8 billion Rb. to assist refugees in Ossetia and Ingushetia. Each republic was meant to receive half of the funds. Slightly less than 4 Billion Rb. actually arrived, or less than 30,000 Rb. per refugee (app. US$ 80). In Ingushetia, 700 million of the received share of 2 billion was earmarked for clothing of schoolgoing children, i.e. approximately 20,000 Rb. per child (letter to the author from the Permanent Representative of the Republic Ingushetia in Moscow, Chadschi-Murat Chamchojev, 2 March 1994).

The Ossetian refugees in North Ossetia are believed to be relatively well off (Russia Briefing, 22 September 1993). Russian assistance to refugees in North Ossetia is equal to the country's assistance to refugees in Ingushetia, and yet North Ossetia is the richer republic. By June 1992, Russia had allocated in excess of 200 million rubles to provide refugees in North Ossetia with housing and amenities (Izvestia, 16 June 1992).

Over the past two years, over half of the Russians living in Ingushetia have emigrated, mainly for economic reasons. Many of these Russians are Cossacks (Izvestia, 2 March 1993).


The conflict over Prigorodniy rayon has historic roots. The Ingush people were internally deported in 1944 and rehabilitated in 1956. Part of their former lands, Prigorodniy rayon, were not returned to them, but remained part of the North Ossetian Republic. On 26 April 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation adopted the law "On the Rehabilitation of Peoples Subjected to Repression". Articles 3 and 6 of the law provide for the restoration of the national and territorial borders that existed before the forcible deportations of 1944. The Ingush tried to take possession of Prigorodniy rayon and declared it part of Ingushetia. They lost the resulting conflict, which caused the massive exodus of the Ingush who lived in North Ossetia.

During the civil war in Prigorodniy rayon in October/November 1992, Russia sent 3,000 special troops to separate the warring parties. A state of emergency was proclaimed for most of North Ossetia and Ingushetia and a provisional administration was installed. The Russian troops have been reinforced in 1994. The provisional administration still functions.

The peacekeeping troops have been unable to impose Yeltsin's December 1993 decree on the return of refugees. Another task of the Russian forces in North Ossetia/Ingushetia, the disarmament of illegal armed groups, has not been a convincing success either. In practice, the troops' activities are limited to border controls and to the guarding of essential infrastructure.

There are now over 600 people working for the provisional administration, but its impact is negligible as it has neither the mandate, the will, or the means to overrule the North Ossetian authorities.

In March 1993, the Koslovodsk accords were signed, which aimed at the return of all refugees to their original place of residence. The accords were never implemented.

Early in February 1994, the Russian Federal State Commission on Nationality Issues proposed an amendment to the law on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples which would leave out the articles 3 and 6 on territorial rehabilitation. In compensation, the Ingush would get back four villages in Prigorodniy rayon. The commission also proposed to designate Russian MVD troops for the exclusive protection of law and order in Prigorodniy rayon, and the replacement of the local judicial personnel by non-Caucasians (Izvestia, 29 January 1994).

The international community is not politically engaged in the conflict. There are limited activities by NGOs. The ICRC distributed family parcels, electric heaters etc. in the summer and fall of 1993, both times to over 25,000 beneficiaries. About one quarter of the assistance was distributed in North Ossetia and three quarters in Ingushetia. Oxfam has started a program in Ingushetia in 1994 and International Alert has a training program in conflict resolution for local leaders and different organizations in the North Caucasus, focussing inter alia on Ingushetia and North Ossetia.


BBC Summary of World Broadcasts,

""N. Ossetian and Ingush presidents interviewed on conflict and refugee problem", 4 February 1994

Colarusso, John.

"Caucasus Update 2." McMaster University, 13 July 1993.

The Guardian,

11 November 1992

Henze, Paul B.

"The Demography of the Caucasus according to 1989 Soviet Census Data." Central Asian Survey [London], 10:147-170, October 1991.


28 November 1992


, 16 June 1992


2 March 1993, "Ruslan Aushev elected first president of Ingushetia", (The Current Digest of Post-Soviet Press, March 1993)


19 January 1994


29 January 1994

Nezavisimaya Gazeta,

8 July 1992


"The Northern Caucasus", (The Current Digest of Post Soviet Press [London], November 1992)

Wesselink, Egbert.

Minorities in the Republic of Georgia, Brussels: Pax Christi International, 1992.

Russia Briefing,

22 September 1993



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