KAZAKHSTAN: Chechen refugee living in Almaty
ALMATY, 26 July 2002 (IRIN) - Ahmet Muradov's story
"I am Ahmet Muradov, a Chechen from Grozny. I made shoes there. I came to Kazakhstan in 1994 when the Russians came and my city became a blazing killing ground. Troops entered Chechnya to prevent Grozny from leaving the Russian Federation. They [the Russians] killed tens of thousands of us. We were not fighting, [we were] just civilians and over 500,000 are now displaced or refugees.
"There was already a big Chechen community in Kazakhstan when I came to seek our relatives and friends. When Stalin deported Chechens in their millions during World War Two, claiming they were Nazi collaborators, it was to Kazakhstan that they were relocated. Many of us Chechens live under very harsh conditions. A charity from Kuwait gives us food parcels twice a month. Lack of employment opportunities and housing are our biggest problems.
"Our situation has not been helped by the government's reluctance to recognise us as genuine refugees because they want to remain on good terms with Russia. So instead, we are granted a 45-day permit that has to be continually renewed. This means that we are not entitled to seek asylum in Kazakhstan and we are denied access to jobs, education and health care. My two boys do not go to school here, they are not allowed. UNHCR said it is making some progress with the government, although funding is holding this process back, I'm told.
"Our situation has deteriorated since 11 September, with the stereotype of Chechens as terrorists or religious extremists being portrayed regularly on television and in newspapers here in Kazakhstan. You are stopped in the streets by police here, detained, asked questions, we have no rights here. My passport was seized by police in Almaty and the photo ripped out in front of me. Then I was arrested for being illegal.
"I try to do what I can, so last year I set up Vainakh, an organisation for Chechens. Originally it was a cultural organisation. Most of my time is now spent representing the growing number of Chechen showing up here, and fighting to get us recognised as real refugees, as we should be under international law."