They are tens of thousands to have fled the small Russian republic with a Muslim majority ravaged by two murderous wars. The last, triggered in 1999 by Vladimir Putin, resulted in the installation at its head of the formidable Ramzan Kadyrov, loyal to the Kremlin accused of ruthlessly repressing his detractors.
Austria, a country of 9 million inhabitants, hosts some 35,000, the largest diaspora community per capita, out of 250,000 in Europe.
In Vienna, they live in a working-class neighborhood in the northeast of the city with unmarked post-war buildings and blocks of flats where men are often employed as security guards while women raise children.
But, under these appearances of tranquility in the streets with modest pizzerias, typical wedding dress shops there or food shops, dozens of refugees told AFP that they were being squeezed.
Some fear being sent back to Russia overnight, at the risk of being tortured or killed according to human rights organizations, while extraditions have accelerated on the grounds of the fight against terrorism since attacks committed by Chechen Islamists in the European Union (EU).
The others live in anguish of being the target of the “Kadyrovtsy” commandos, these henchmen of Ramzan Kadyrov accused by NGOs of relentlessly hunting down his opponents, including abroad.
– Notice rouge –
Until last February, Zorbek Nazouïev, a stocky grandfather with a long gray beard exiled in Austria for 18 years, had heard nothing more of Russia.
After having joined during the first war (1994-1996) the “boieviki”, these Chechen fighters who faced the Russian federal troops, he had following the second conflict fled for fear of reprisals and rebuilt his life in Austria with his many children.
And then this letter from the Austrian prosecutor’s office arrived, informing him of his indictment for murder and an act of terrorism. According to the document consulted by AFP, he is accused of having participated in the massacres of Russian civilians in 1995.
He denies having “killed innocent people” and recalls that he was “then defending himself against the Russian invader”. “We are rewriting history”, gets carried away the fifty-year-old who speaks under an assumed name.
The man wonders if this desire to judge him is not rather linked to the presence in his family of a jihadist who has gone to fight in Syria in the ranks of the Islamic State.
Despite numerous requests from AFP, the Austrian authorities in charge of this case refused to comment. It was also not possible to speak to judicial and police sources, silent on this sensitive subject.
In 2006, the EU concluded a readmission agreement with the Russian government facilitating the return of people convicted in court or subject to an Interpol red notice issued by Moscow.
– Vols charters –
Hundreds of Chechens have since been expelled – no official statistics are available, which international organizations regularly complain about.
In a 2017 report, the Council of Europe denounced “the abusive misuse of the Interpol system” by certain states to “persecute political opponents abroad”.
The notion of risk prevention has taken root in the West.
According to the Chechen community, EU countries have tightened their policies for fear of attacks.
“There is very clearly an alert which is given at the level of the services” to try to prevent future passages to the act, estimates Anne le Huérou, specialist in post-Soviet conflicts at the University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre.
After the assassination in France of the teacher Samuel Paty in October 2020 by a Chechen refugee, Austria thus created an intervention force to fight against “extremist tendencies” and “parallel societies” within this community. .
Hit for the first time on its soil a month later during an attack in Vienna and accused of negligence in monitoring the radical nebula, the Alpine country has since redoubled its caution.
In December 2021, he organized a charter flight for ten people, touting “effective repatriation cooperation” with Russia.
Questioned by AFP, the government affirms that “four Russian nationals are currently in detention with a view to deportation”. Despite the cessation of trade links with Russia due to sanctions linked to the war in Ukraine, the expulsions are still on the agenda according to the Austrian Ministry of the Interior.
“Rather than going back, I prefer to kill myself here,” horrified coward Zorbek Nazouïev, handicapped, he says, after being tortured with electricity during the repression in Chechnya.
If found guilty, he faces withdrawal of his refugee status and extradition.
To the European authorities, to the Chechen exiles sent back to Russia, Moscow systematically promises good treatment.
However, several of them have disappeared, been tortured or convicted on charges that NGOs consider “fabricated” or have been killed.
On April 4, the Russian organization Memorial pinned France for remaining deaf to the pleas of a young man.
Daoud Muradov, born in 2002, was deported in December 2020 amid concerns for state security. At the end of 2021, he was transported to a prison in Grozny where he was tortured, according to the emblematic NGO recently dissolved by Moscow.
His relatives were informed of his death in February. They did not obtain the conclusions of the forensic examination and could not recover his body, detailed the same source.
– Slaughter in Vienna –
When they do not risk extradition, the Chechens fear the commandos sent by Kadyrov, accused of liquidating his adversaries where they are hiding.
The role of the Chechen leader, in power in the Caucasian territory since 2007, was specifically pointed out by Austrian justice in the shooting assassination in Vienna in January 2009 of one of his opponents who had testified publicly about his human rights violations. of Man.
This file “still prevents sleep” his lawyer, she told AFP. Me Nadia Lorenz believes that “the correspondence between the Austrian courts and the Grozny court made it possible to locate the residence” of her client.
A few days before being shot, Oumar Israilov, a young father of four, had asked in vain for police protection, noticing that he was being followed in the street.
The judgment shed light on Russia’s modus operandi. For the prosecution, Ramzan Kadyrov was the principal.
According to the victim’s widow, the Chechen leader had called her husband twice before the murder, demanding that he return immediately.
Kadyrov has never been worried: the requests for judicial cooperation addressed to Moscow have remained dead letters.
Chechen activist Rosa Dounayeva claims that other murders attributed to the “Kadyrovtsy” took place: in Istanbul in September 2011, in Lille (France) in January 2020, in Vienna again in July 2020.
– Life on borrowed time in Europe –
“We are associated in the media only with criminality and religious extremism while the majority of Chechens, who live in anguish, shave the walls and no longer do politics”, assures on the sidelines of one of the regular demonstrations that she organizes to denounce the expulsions of Mrs Dunaïeva, a part-time saleswoman.
There are many examples of successful integration in Austria, such as judoka Chamil Borchachvili, 26, who returned from the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 with a gratifying Olympic medal for the country.
Or like 19-year-old Zelimkhan Kazan. The young man, dark hair and camouflage patterned jacket, was born in Austria. He never knew Chechnya. He is continuing his studies in computer science, has already set up two start-up projects and pays taxes.
“I work and I have everything I need but I don’t feel 100% safe”, regrets this follower of mixed martial arts (MMA) in the middle of a weight training session near the Danube Canal.
“No question of doing bullshit that we would pass to an Austrian teenager: for me, it’s the death warrant.”
Zelimkhan Kazan, who has no official Russian papers – just an Austrian pass – cannot be naturalized in this country where strict blood rights prevail.
Complicated, while in Vienna plainclothes police check him “three or four times a month”, continues the young man who also prefers to remain anonymous. “Some people call me a jerk, hoping for a violent reaction.”
All the Chechen refugees met by AFP say they are targeted by the police, the slightest gesture towards an official can lead to a conviction and then to expulsion.
In July 2021, police officers were convicted after CCTV footage emerged showing them beating up a Chechen while believing themselves out of sight.
Zelimkhan Kazan must also be wary of the “Kadyrovtsy” whom he recognizes by their big cars and their insurance. When he sees them, he adjusts his hood so that no one asks him questions.
Rosa Dunayeva is concerned about Ramzan Kadyrov’s growing hold over young people born in the EU. “When he doesn’t kill them, he brainwashes them, pits them against us or against the West.”
The Chechens speak of cocaine “deals” which are destroying the lives of many of them, deprived of a future and caught up in a system of mafia clans. Girls complain of being hampered in their freedom by “big brothers”.
Disillusioned by discrimination, some fall into the trap of Ramzan Kadyrov, who manages to seduce them via social networks where he has millions of followers and sows division in families.
“The regime highlights career opportunities for those who, trained in Europe, would return to Chechnya,” explains researcher Anne Le Huérou. “Homophobic propaganda and the enhancement of masculinity can also be successful”.
Since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, a “thousand” of volunteers sent by Ramzan Kadyrov have been fighting alongside the Russians. Opposite, some have gone to lend a hand to the Ukrainians, according to several sources interviewed by AFP.
And among the millions of refugees who fled the bombings, a young Chechen, who came with her son, was arrested in Romania, according to the justice, which pronounced her extradition. Accused of “participation in an armed group for purposes contrary to the Russian Federation”, her appeal was rejected on Wednesday.