Azerbaijanis stuck in Dagestan on hunger strike, demand they be allowed to return home
Over 800 Azerbaijani citizens continue to wait on the closed Russian-Azerbaijani border in Dagestan for when they will be allowed to return to their homeland. They complain of poor, unsanitary conditions and other problems, several dozen people have even gone on a hunger strike, reports the Caucasian Knot.
Azerbaijan periodically is taking in about 100 people, but this does not solve the problem.
13 people have come down with coronavirus, and been placed in a hospital.
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Closed border, tents and waiting
Azerbaijani citizens from different parts of Russia began to flock to the border in the Derbent region of Dagestan after the outbreak of coronavirus. Many of them learned that the border was closed only when they arrived.
The care of these people has been partially taken over by local authorities and residents. But at the moment in Dagestan itself, the difficult situation with coronavirus, the high infection rate and Dagestan officials are asking Azerbaijan to speed up the process of returning the evacuation of its citizens.
In Azerbaijan, meanwhile, the epidemiological situation also leaves much to be desired – about 300 new infections are detected per day (much more than, for example, in early May), the quarantine regime was extended until June 15 and it is not a fact that it will not be extended again. Accordingly, the borders are also closed for an indefinite period.
The Azerbaijanis stuck in Dagestan have been housed in tents. Some have been on the border for more than a month, but still can’t get on the list of those to be taken home. By declaring a hunger strike, they want to draw the attention of the Azerbaijani authorities.
One of them, Sadikh Rzaev, says he has been waiting at the border since May 14.
“I was working at a construction site in Grozny [Chechnya]. When work stopped, we decided to return to Azerbaijan. I also went on a hunger strike. But I stopped yesterday because of a sharp drop in my blood pressure. I hope I’ll come to my senses and return to the ranks of the participants in the demonstration”, he says.
Azerbaijan not up to the task?
“Over the past three months, Azerbaijan has only taken in citizens three times: the first time it took in 120 people, the second – 131 and the last time 122 people. But every time the border opens and more than a hundred people cross it, about two hundred people additionally come here from all over Russia. But the Azerbaijani side sets a certain limit. It’s impossible to immediately take everyone away,” says Fuad Shikhiev, acting head of the Derbent region.
The operational headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan only states that the return of citizens from abroad is carried out in stages as infrastructure allows.
Both the people stuck at the border and some experts in Azerbaijan believe that this problem has been out of sight of both the Azerbaijani authorities and social media.
According to the observer of the Azerbaijani news agency Turan Tofig Turkel:
“In April, when the topic just appeared, it was covered by both pro-government media and independent online publications. Now pro-government media mention the topic when another group of Azerbaijani citizens crosses the border. Independent media mostly writes about the problems of people at the border. With regard to social media, opposition-minded users pay more attention to the persecution of activists, criticism of the authorities’ social policy in a pandemic, as well as toughening of quarantine on weekends and harsh police actions against violators during this period.”
The situation in Azerbaijan at the given moment is indeed tense. And not even so much because of the virus, but because of the measures taken by the government to combat it.
Many opposition members and activists have already been imprisoned on charges of violating the quarantine regime, and discontent with both the quarantine rules and the brutal behavior of the police against this background is growing amongst the public.