Chechens: A Little-Known Global Diaspora Of Refugees

 @Gooch700 on April 19 2013 2:49 PM

Hundreds of thousands of Chechens fled their homeland of Chechnya in the northern Caucuses during the wars of the 1990s.

Most of these refugees went to nearby Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey and parts of Western Europe, while a smaller number moved to the U.S., including (in 2002, reportedly) the family of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspects behind Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Mairbek Vatchagaev, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and a Chechen historian, wrote in 2008 that about 70,000 Chechen refugees were living in Europe at the time, with the largest community (of about 17,000) in Austria, followed by France and Germany (about 10,000 each), and Belgium (7,000-10,000).

There are also small Chechen communities in Spain, the U.K. and even Poland.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, at least 139,000 Chechens live in Russia, mostly in Moscow, while smaller numbers live in Middle Eastern countries, including Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

Oliver Bullough, Caucasus editor for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in London, told Voice of America that Chechen refugees typically live in isolated and insular communities.

"The Chechens in Turkey, I know -- I have been to several of their refugee camps -- live in total separate lives, ruled by their own people," he said. "There is no connection, really, to wider Turkish society."

The size of the Chechen community in the U.S. is believed to be quite small, especially given the difficulty of obtaining visas to come to the States.

Almut Rochowanski, co-founder of the Chechnya Advocacy Network, a U.S.-based NGO, told International Business Times that there are probably no more than 1,000 Chechens in the whole country.

“There is a [Chechen] community in the Los Angeles area, but it’s not huge,” she said.

“Big enough to fill a wedding party, I hear. They live all over the country.”

Chechens, who are almost entirely Muslim, were long subject to discrimination by the Russians. The growing Chechen diaspora in Europe and elsewhere has also suffered woes common to refugees.

In May 2008, a Chechen woman set herself on fire in Alicante, Spain, after her family was expelled from a Red Cross apartment. The Madrid government had also twice refused to grant asylum to her and her four children.

Chechen refugees have also complained of abuse and mistreatment in camps in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Poland, France and the Czech Republic.

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