A Café Turned Shanty Town for the Displaced in Ingushetia

A two-story, dilapidated brick building, Tanzila used to be a café, a place of leisurely barbecues and tea.  Today, it is a settlement for internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Ingushetia.

Tanzila’s residents live in makeshift homes made from scrap metal, scavenged wood, and cardboard. They huddle together behind the building in a courtyard framed by a wasteland speckled with litter, broken glass, and overgrown shrubs.  Communications lines and cables are scattered everywhere, and cars constantly run over an exposed gas line, which looks like it could explode at any minute.

For almost 10 years, people have lived in these conditions in the courtyard at Tanzila, in shacks with decaying roofs and no running water or sanitation facilities.  They fled to Tanzila to escape the war in Chechnya that ended nearly nine years ago.

“I’ve been living here for almost ten years,” says Asia, 41.  “We fled from Chechnya during the war.  Me, my children, and two older brothers – we stayed alive, but everybody else was killed.  It was a miracle that anyone survived.  We could not live in Grozny any more.  All of our neighbors and friends left Chechnya and we decided to stay in Ingushetia. …Actually, I am used to living here.  My son got married here and they have two children, so I became grandmother here.”

Just after the war ended, some 1,600 people lived at Tanzila.  In the last few years, many left Tanzila.  The current residents say that most of them sold everything and sought asylum in Europe, but very few returned to Chechnya because there was nothing to return to.  Today, International Medical Corps estimates that there are 304 residents, including 65 families, living in Tanzila.  With a 60 percent unemployment rate, many struggle to find regular work year-round, especially in the winter.

Aset, 42, has eight children and cannot find a permanent job.  She scrapes out a meager living by providing cleaning services, washing dishes, and cleaning at funerals or weddings. She finds it almost impossible to feed her eight children and pay the bills.

“My daughter-in-law is pregnant again and I am happy,” says Aset.  “It is very hard to raise a big family, but I am trying hard to support them.  While I’m working somewhere, my neighbors and older daughter Madina help to look after the children, give them food, and take care of them.”

Aset is one of 25,000 displaced persons living in Ingushetia who are below the poverty line – approximately $80 a month for a family.  There are another 23,000 in Chechnya.

International Medical Corps has worked in the region since 2000, first providing emergency services to those affected by the war.  With the war long over, International Medical Corps transitioned its services from emergency response to long-term development projects aimed at helping the Caucuses rebuild and recover from its turbulent past.

“We often see international missions’ representatives here,” says Aset.  “They ask the same questions all the time – why are we here and why can we not go back to Chechnya.  I think they do it just to report to their donors.  Only a few have actually helped us and International Medical Corps is the only international organization that continues to help us.”

With support from the U.S. government’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, International Medical Corps has been building clinics in spontaneous settlements like Tanzila in Ingushetia and Chechnya since 2003.  At Tanzila, International Medical Corps built a clinic with all the technology to diagnose and treat serious and chronic conditions. For most of the displaced living in Tanzila, this clinic is the only place where they can access primary healthcare services, as they do not have the government registration papers to receive treatment in hospitals or the money to cover out of-pocket expenses.

“I received free medications from International Medical Corps doctors and nurses here and they have treated me quite a few times,” says Aset. “The clinic and the psychosocial support room that International Medical Corps built are wonderful.”

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