During the inter-ethnic strife in Chechnya and the two separatist First and Second Chechen Wars, hundreds of thousands of Chechen refugees have left their homes and left the republic for elsewhere in Russia and abroad.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reports that hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes in Chechnya since 1990. This included majority of Chechnya non-Chechen population of 300,000 (mostly Russians, but also Armenians, Ingush, Georgians, Ukrainians and many more) who had left the republic in the early 1990s and as of 2008 never returned. Many ethnic Chechens have also moved to Moscow and other Russian cities. According to the 2008 study by the Norwegian Refugee Council, some 139,000 Chechens remained displaced in the Russian Federation.
In the nearby republic of Ingushetia, at the peak of the refugee crisis after the start of the Second Chechen War in 2000, estimated 240,000 refugees almost doubled the Ingushetia’s pre-war population of 300,000 (350,000 including the refugees from the Ingush-Ossetian conflict) and resulting in an epidemy of tuberculosis. Estimated 325,000 was the total number of people that have entered Ingushetia as refugees in the first year of the Second Chechen War. Some 185,000 were in the republic already by November 1999 and 215,000 lived in Ingushetia by June 2000. In October 1999 the border with Ingushetia was closed down by the Russian military and a refugee convoy bombed after being turned away.
Thousands of them were pressured to return by the Russian military already in December 1999, and the refugee camps were forcibly closed after 2001 by the new Chechen government of President Akhmad Kadyrov and the new Ingush government of President Murat Zyazikov. About 180,000 Chechens remained in Ingushetia by February 2002 and 150,000 by June 2002, most of them housed in a “tent city” camps, abandoned farms and factories and disused trains, or living with sympathetic families. As of early 2007, less than 20,000 Chechens remained in Ingushetia and many of them were expected to integrate locally rather than return to Chechnya.
As of 2006, more than 100,000 people remain internally displaced persons (IDP) within Chechnya, most of whom live in substandard housing and poverty. All official IDP centers in the republic were closed down and the foreign NGO aid severely limited by the government (including the ban of the Danish Refugee Council).
Since 2003 there is a sharp surge of Chechen asylum-seekers arriving abroad, at a time when major combat operations had largely ceased. One explanation is the process of “Chechenization”, which empowered former separatists Ahmed Kadyrov and his son Ramzan Kadyrov as the leaders of Chechnya (indeed, Chechen refugees indicated that they feared Chechen security forces more than Russian troops). Another explanation is that after a decade of war and lawlessness, many Chechens have given up hope of ever rebuilding a normal life at home and instead try to start a new life in exile.