Danish Refugee Council exits North Caucasus after 17 years

17 years of humanitarian efforts in North Caucasus is concluded and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) can look back on one of the largest operations in the history of the organization. From emergency relief during the wars in Chechnya to reconstruction and durable solutions for the displaced population, the lessons learned in North Caucasus have set the standard for DRC interventions in zones of conflict across the globe.

“DRC has been the central humanitarian actor in North Caucasus from the acute phase during the wars through reconstruction and the implementation of durable solutions. It is one of the longest and most complex operations we have undertaken and the experience in the region is a vital resource in our operations in warzones across the globe in places like Somalia, Syria and South Sudan,” says DRC International Director, Ann Mary Olsen.

DRC began its humanitarian operations in the North Caucasus in 1997 after the first Chechen war that cost 30,000 lives and the destruction of large cities like Grozny, Gudermes and Argun. The organization was already established in the region when the second Chechen war began and was able to scale up operations and ensure emergency relief to hundreds of thousands of displaced during the ten years it raged.

“During the acute phase our main focus was ensuring food distribution to half a million people in Chechnya and the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. At the same time DRC completed the registration of 900.000 displaced in cooperation with the UN. This registration became the central instrument for humanitarian distributions in the region – at one point we knew the shoe size of close to one million displaced and were able to deliver the right sizes and numbers for families in need, says Ann Mary Olsen.

From year 2000 onwards the reconstruction efforts increased and DRC completed more than 100 large-scale infrastructure projects.
“The destruction was immense and it was crucial to ensure shelter for the displaced and vital infrastructure,” says Ann Mary Olsen and continues: “we also launched psycho-social rehabilitation programs and provided durable solutions through business trainings, income-generating activities such as agricultural grants, agricultural cooperatives and thousands of successful business projects,” says Ann Mary Olsen.

Danish Refugee Council has worked in Chechnya as well as neighboring republics of Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Dagestan. The organization has also been active in Georgia. Humanitarian efforts have included the organization's demining unit Danish Demining Group, capacity building of NGOs and civil society and a comprehensive support to Chechen schoolchildren in the form of school meals and school supplies.

"We leave the North Caucasus with a sense of achievement having solved a crucial task and gained important experience as an organization - we have helped many hundreds of thousands of civilians, and efforts are recognized both internationally and locally, in the Assinovska settlement a street was baptised 'Danish Street' in recognition of DRC efforts in Chechnya, "says Ann Mary Olsen.