Chechen refugee children face disease and despair
Date: January 27, 2000
The flame of the fire's last log is not enough to bring the pot of thin grey soup to the boil. A freckled little girl's face, cheeks flushed with fever, pokes out from under a blanket in a cold refugee tent in Russia's impoverished Ingushetia region. She hugs her white kitten to keep warm.
"We don't have enough blankets. See, she's sleeping under a mattress," said Malika Mirsoyeva, who shares a tent with her eight children, all of whom have come down with flu. "We have no firewood. Last night I asked my neighbour for some wood. He gave me this tiny log. That's all we have left. I don't know what else to do."
Four months into Russia's campaign in Chechnya, more than 200,000 refugees remain in Ingushetia, a region to the west of the rebel region. Most live with local families, but about 30,000 live in tented camps near the border. Plunging temperatures have made the situation far worse over the past few days, especially for the children. Medical workers say disease is spreading and the youngest suffer most.
"Right now influenza and colds are widespread," said Yasita Isayeva, a Chechen paediatrician working at a crowded medical tent run with help from the charity Doctors of the World, one of only a handful of aid organisations operating in the region. "Different kinds of diseases are cropping up all the time -- bronchitis, pneumonia," she said.
Doctors also fear an outbreak of tuberculosis, a disease which has spread through Russia in drug resistant forms. There have already been reports of a handful of cases in the camps. Rosa Kailikhrayeva, a child psychologist, said a worse threat to the children could be emotional problems. Herself a refugee from Grozny, she quickly rattles off the symptoms of childhood stress in a war zone. "These children have insomnia, disturbed sleep, terrible nightmares. Their attention spans are disrupted. They have poor appetites, are irritable and suffer from aggressive behaviour."
Adam, 11, his feet poking through holes in burlap socks, drew pictures of Grozny in flames, of tanks and guns and corpses. They have been on his mind a lot lately, he says. "There (in Grozny) the warplanes dropped huge bombs, and I was there," he said. "I saw the dead bodies. Bodies. Bodies."