Abkhazia's legacy: IDPs languish at Iveria hotel with no vote
|Publication Date||27 August 2003|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Abkhazia's legacy: IDPs languish at Iveria hotel with no vote, 27 August 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46a4852319.html [accessed 6 October 2015]|
Elizabeth Eagen: 8/27/03
A EurasiaNet Commentary
Just over a decade ago, the Iveria Hotel, which towers over Tbilisi's city center, offered some of the best accommodations in Georgia available to tourists. Today, the 15-storey hotel serves as a monument to the government's inability to address Georgia's myriad social and economic problems.
The hotel is now home to roughly 800 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia and the earlier conflict in South Ossetia. The IDPs were initially to be merely temporary occupants of the Iveria. Their stay, however, is now destined to stretch beyond 10 years.
Overall, the fighting in Abkhazia created approximately 260,000 IDPs, and chances remain slim that they will return to the disputed territory soon. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. After a ceasefire took hold, Georgian officials helped "resettle" the internally displaced in whatever space was available, including hotels. The Iveria quickly emerged as the highest-profile IDP refuge.
The hotel provides a telling snapshot of how low Georgia's fortunes have fallen. Laundry hangs from the windows, and residents have bricked or boarded up half the balconies in order to expand cramped living quarters. Bright blue tarpaulins weatherproof some of the makeshift walls. Wood paneling and moldings torn from the corridors were burned for heating and cooking; the hotel's guests have stripped it of anything they could use to improve the apartments. Residents use portable gas burners or electric hot plates set up in their bathrooms or balconies for cooking.
The Iveria offers a constant reminder to residents the capital about Georgia's problems, of the almost constant conflict on its own territory, and of the government's inability to deal with the demands for safety and a decent livelihood for its own population.
Overall, about one-third of the country's IDPs live in Tbilisi, where living conditions and economic opportunities are reportedly slightly better than in the provinces. The fact is that the residents of the Iveria, and the hotels in towns in and around Tbilisi, live significantly better than those IDPs living outside of the city centers. Thus, those IDPs in Tbilisi could be considered something of a test case for the successful integration of an IDP population. The fact that no substantive integration efforts have been undertaken can be viewed as an astounding failure of the government to address a pressing humanitarian crisis.
On the surface, it would seem to be politically advantageous to the Georgian government to take steps to remove a visible reminder of instability from the center of the city. It would likewise seem expedient for officials to reconsider regulations governing IDPs so that the displaced could better participate in political and economic life in Tbilisi and elsewhere.
The reality appears to be, however, that President Eduard Shevardnadze's administration is interested in preserving the status quo. In particular, the government has made a lackluster effort to find more permanent housing for IDPs, or, as one UNHCR report put it, to enable them to "enjoy their full economic, social and political rights as citizens of Georgia."
In 1998, the UNHCR contracted the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) to produce a study of the discrepancies between the de jure and de facto status of IDPs in Georgia. The document concluded that while the system has flaws, a greater part of the problem is in the dissemination of information. It turns out that IDPs have rights they do not know about. Officials responsible for IDP-related programs not only neglect to inform them about such rights, they also do not apply automatic procedures to which IDPs are entitled. Such privileges include reduced fares for inter-city transport.
Georgia economic woes are well documented. It is understandable, then, that the country's infrastructure is hard pressed to accommodate IDPs. However, empty government promises do nothing to help the collective plight of the displaced. Non-governmental organizations report that constant misappropriation of funds, and the subsequent finger pointing among parliamentarians, channels money from the state budget into unknown private pockets – leaving holes in funds available for the actual running of the country.
Corruption, however, does not entirely explain why so many IDPs remain in substandard state-provided housing, such as the Iveria Hotel. The explanation is also connected with the legislation and government policies concerning housing, especially Georgia's 1996 Law on Forcibly Displaced Persons. As the World Food Program pointed out in a 1999 report, this law, and Georgian state policy in general, assumes that IDPs will soon return to their homes. This creates a disincentive for the government to help IDPs assimilate into the communities where they currently reside.
In addition, the law ties the registry of a new residence to the loss of IDP status. At the same time, IDPs are unable to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections because permanent residence status is a requirement for voter registration. This effectively deprives the displaced of a vital means of exerting pressure on politicians who have the power to address IDP-related issues. And for those willing to do what is necessary to vote, it means giving up the cherished goal of returning to Abkhazia. Most IDPs today are thus confronting a no-win situation.
Editor's Note: Elizabeth Eagen is a former associate with the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, and recently completed a Fulbright fellowship in Georgia.
Posted August 27, 2003 © Eurasianet