The Government is seriously concerned at the loss of civilian life in Chechnya and the plight of the refugees fleeing from the conflict zone. Russia has been bombing alleged rebel bases in Chechnya since 5 September, has occupied a security zone covering the northern third of Chechnya, and has crossed the Terek river and encircled the Chechen capital, Grozny.
An estimated 350,000 Chechen refugees, mostly women and children, have fled the conflict area, mainly to the neighbouring Russian republic of Ingushetia, whose own population numbers only some 340,000, but also to North Ossetia and Dagestan. There have been reports that a similar number of people are displaced within Chechnya. Current concern relates to the Russian sealing of the border with Ingushetia two weeks ago, out of fears that rebel gunmen might enter federal territory. There are reports that up to 50,000 refugees are waiting along roads leading in and out of Chechnya. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, expressed concern over the large numbers massing on the border, with the refugees complaining of bitter cold and food shortages as they waited without shelter. The UNHCR has sent convoys of food supplies, tents and blankets to the area.