The Russian authorities have been accused of being heartless and insensitive after ordering thirty teenagers who survived last September’s Beslan school siege to hand back the financial compensation they were paid.
Civil servants in the southern Russian republic of North Ossetia where Beslan is located decided that the pupils did not deserve compensation because they had escaped in the first few minutes of the siege after hearing automatic gunfire. That, they said, meant they did not fall into the three eligible categories of victims: hostages, the seriously wounded and the lightly wounded.
Although it was argued that the children were still victims, had suffered psychologically and had often lost close friends or even siblings, the government has successfully fended off a legal challenge from their furious parents.
As a result the teenagers must each hand back the 40,000 rubles (NZ$1,960) they were awarded.
The scandal has divided Beslan, which lost 330 people in the siege, 180 of them children, and has once again seen the local authorities become the target of residents’ anger.
The teenagers’ parents have appealed to Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and have asked the parliamentary commission investigating the tragedy to assist.
"At first I didn’t pay any attention to the stories (about compensation being returned)," Nadejda Tsomartova, an elderly Beslan resident, told Gazeta.Ru.
"But then I got really offended. One of my grandsons died in the siege and the other managed to get away. And now they (the authorities) were first of all giving something to us and then taking it back. It’s just incredible. These children also suffered traumatically."
Arkady Baskayev, an MP, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the authorities had made a serious blunder.
"Such steps certainly discredit...the authorities and the state as a whole. In my opinion nobody has the right to take anything away from them (the children)."