Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Georgia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Georgia , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8cb1c.html [accessed 25 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, about 280,000 people were internally displaced in Georgia. The overwhelming majority (96 percent) were ethnic Georgians displaced from Abkhazia, about one-third from the Gali district. The rest – about 14,000 persons – were displaced from South Ossetia. Of these, about 10,000 ethnic Georgians displaced from South Ossetia lived in government-controlled areas and about 4,000 persons remained displaced within South Ossetia. About 2 percent of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's displaced were ethnic Jews, Ukrainians, Greeks, Abkhaz, Armenians, or Russians.

Almost half of Georgia's displaced population lived in the Samegrelo region adjacent to Abkhazia, followed by Tbilisi (31 percent), and the Imereti region (13 percent). In May, renewed fighting in the Gali district of Abkhazia displaced another 40,000 persons, most of whom fled to the Samegrelo region.

More than 100,000 refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia reportedly lived in the Russian Federation. Of this figure, an estimated 35,000 ethnic Ossetian refugees – most displaced from areas under Georgian government control – lived in the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia.

In addition, some 300 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection were living in Georgia at year's end. Although Georgia granted refugee status to these individuals under its constitution, they lost refugee status in February when Georgia enacted a new refugee law. Many were of concern to UNHCR and at risk of becoming stateless.

Abkhazia

Negotiations in a variety of fora failed to settle the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, which erupted again in May in the Gali district in southern Abkhazia. The renewed fighting prevented ethnic Georgians from returning to their homes and displaced another 40,000 people.

Abkhaz separatists won control of Abkhazia and expelled some 300,000 ethnic Georgians from the province in 1993. By the beginning of 1998, a tenuous cease-fire signed in May 1994, coupled with Russian peacekeeping forces representing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), had helped some 50,000 to 70,000 displaced ethnic Georgians to return to Abkhazia. About 53,000 displaced persons had returned to their homes in Gali district, which had been populated almost exclusively by ethnic Georgians before the war.

The heightened pace of return to Gali in 1997 and early 1998 halted abruptly mid-year. On May 20, an already unstable situation in Gali deteriorated into open warfare between Abkhaz separatist militia and Georgian armed groups, and at one point, Georgian units sent to help returning displaced persons to cross the Inguri River. Abkhaz militia swept through southern Gali, in some towns burning more than half of the homes, killing livestock, and destroying recently refurbished civilian infrastructure.

In early June, the United States earmarked $5 million and the European Union allocated $180,000 to assist those displaced by the renewed fighting in Abkhazia. Also in June, the UN Security Council extended the Observer Mission in Georgia until January 31, 1999.

By year's end, some 30,000 ethnic Georgian returnees to Gali were displaced once more. An additional 10,000 ethnic Georgians were displaced from Gali for the first time. Some 239 people died in the conflict, including 25 civilians, several CIS peacekeepers, and numerous Abkhaz militiamen.

Despite the fighting, small numbers of displaced residents reportedly returned to villages surrounding Gali. UNHCR cautioned against such returns, citing security concerns and risks posed by landmines. However, with return to Gali for the vast majority of the displaced an impossibility, UNHCR focused instead on helping them integrate locally.

South Ossetia

Georgian and South Ossetian commitments to give priority to the return of refugees and displaced persons during 1998 failed to yield many refugee and displaced-person returns.

By year's end, fewer than 3,000 Ossetian refugees had returned to South Ossetia, most repatriating from Russia. South Ossetian separatists blocked attempts to return ethnic Georgians to South Ossetia and pressed for the return of Ossetian refugees (from neighboring North Ossetia) to South Ossetia rather than to their pre-war homes in areas controlled by the Georgian government.

The Georgian government, in turn, did little to help ethnic Ossetians return to their homes in other areas of Georgia. Local officials reportedly failed to evict illegal squatters who had taken over houses and apartments of ethnic Ossetian refugees and displaced persons. Returning Ossetian refugees and internally displaced persons seeking judicial support to reclaim their homes were usually denied by the courts, according to UNHCR. Those who did manage to obtain judicial eviction orders often found that local officials were unwilling or unable to enforce them.

Between July 1997 and December 31, 1998, about 865 Ossetian refugees repatriated to South Ossetia from North Ossetia with UNHCR assistance. An additional 631 refugees reportedly returned to South Ossetia from North Ossetia without formal assistance. Another 387 families displaced within South Ossetia also received UNHCR assistance during the year.

Asylum

Although Georgia has not acceded to the UN Refugee Convention or Protocol, it adopted a national refugee law in February 1998. The Law on Refugees replaced provisions in Georgia's constitution for granting asylum and stripped more than 300 previously recognized refugees and 400 formerly deported Meskhetian Turks of their legal status.

Georgia took steps to implement the new Law on Refugees, but did not recognize any refugees during the year. Under the law, the Refugee Department within Georgia's Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation is responsible for registering asylum seekers and conducting status determinations. According to UNHCR, the Refugee Department considered, and subsequently rejected, 24 asylum applications in 1998.

The law removed legislation that had enabled returning Meskhetian Turks – who were deported en mass to Central Asia by the Soviet authorities during the Stalin era – to legalize their stay in Georgia. Of nearly 280,000 formerly deported Meskhetians, thousands fled persecution or were expelled a second time from Central Asia and were living as stateless persons in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and elsewhere in the CIS. Because Georgia's refugee law provided the Meskhetians no legal status or state assistance, returning Meskhetians, and many former refugees, were at risk of becoming stateless and destitute.

Although UNHCR stopped registering asylum seekers when the refugee law took effect, UNHCR monitored the law's implementation and intervened in individual cases. UNHCR expressed concern about several elements of the refugee status determination procedure, including the the Refugee Department's refusal to register some asylum seekers. UNHCR planned to strengthen its "capacity building" role in 1999.

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