Georgian Refugees Face Expulsion From Capital
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||15 January 2011|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Georgian Refugees Face Expulsion From Capital, 15 January 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d353363c.html [accessed 31 August 2014]|
The authorities in Georgia plan to move hundreds of people displaced in past conflicts out of the capital to new homes in the west of the country, ignoring their protests that they will lose their livelihoods if they are forced to leave.
Under a new strategy for refugees, the government wants to clear 20 buildings of around 500 refugee families who currently live there.
Most are people displaced by conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the early 1990s. Others arrived after the brief conflict with Russia in 2008.
Both groups say that they have adapted to life in the capital, and argue that forcing them to leave would infringe their civil rights.
"My family and I have lived in Tbilisi since 1993," Levan Gvaramia, who is originally from Abkhazia who who joined a small protest outside parliament on January 12. "My children are study and working in Tbilisi. I have no idea what I'd do if they resettled us in the provinces. There isn't any work or a university there."
The first evictions of internally displaced persons, IDPs, began in June 2010, as a result of which over 5,000 people were forced out of Tbilisi. The authorities halted the process under pressure from local and international organisations, who argued the evictions were unlawful.
With help from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, the government drew up a new plan, which was approved in September.
Officials argue that Georgian law allows them to forcibly evict IDPs if they refuse to leave voluntarily. Many human rights activists, however, say that resettling people in areas with few employment and welfare opportunities is a violation of their rights.
"Shifting refugees to the regions when they've lived in Tbilisi for many years violates the law on refugees," Nona Kurdovanidze, chairman of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, said. "The law stipulates that resettlement… is only permissible if they receive equivalent accommodation [and] their standard of living does not deteriorate"
"Of course the law does not directly say that moving refugees to the regions worsens their living conditions, but it is easy to imagine that in the regions they will have fewer chances to find work, which will affect their conditions."
Opposition politicians have entered the debate, and accused the government of washing its hands of some of the country's neediest people.
"In the regions the refugees must starve. Sadly, the authorities are not providing them with work, nor land, and they are left with just the miserly payment of 28 laris. These people have long lived in Tbilisi and have more or less acclimatised to it. Moving them to the regions is like a second exile," said Lasha Ckhartishvili, a representative of the opposition Conservative Party.
Jondi Baghaturia, leader of the opposition Kartuli Dasi party, called the scheme "irresponsible and cynical".
"They are effectively themselves forcibly resettling their own citizens from one part of the country to another. This is a crude violation of national and international law," he said.
But, according to Valeri Kopaleishvili, head of the department for settlement of refugees at the Ministry for Refugee Affairs and Resettlement, the government cannot leave all the refugees in the capital.
"The ministry is acting according to the plan of action in the State Strategy for Forcibly Displaced People and Refugees for 2009-12. The strategy considers a long-term settlement of refugees. Thousands of refugees already have been granted accommodation in Tbilisi, but the rest, sadly, must move to the regions. Naturally, the capital cannot accommodate all the refugees," he said.
Refugees, he said, took over these buildings themselves and it was time to return them to their original owners.
"These buildings are private property and the resettlement of the refugees proceeds in full accordance with the law."
However, judging by the experiences of summer last year, many refugees will choose to return to Tbilisi to live, even if they lack the housing they had previously.
"Life in Tbilisi is not all luxury, but I have seen with my own eyes the situation in the regions where they are giving out accommodation. I was moved from Tbilisi in summer 2010 and settled in the village of Potskhoetseri in western Georgia, where I remained without any source of subsistence. I have lived and worked in Tbilisi for 20 years, and have no idea what I was supposed to do there, so I decided to come back," said Madonna Vekua, a refugee from Abkhazia.
"Apart from that, my health worsened in the village, and there were no medicines there, or a properly-equipped hospital."
It is not clear when the second wave of resettlement is due to start. Officials say they have already warned the refugees of their impending move, and offered them long-term housing, and now they just have to choose. Kopaleishvili said the ministry would leave no one on the street.
"People who, for objectively-valid reasons, do not want to leave Tbilisi, can remain and move in with relatives, and if they cannot do that, leave for Potskhoetseri. We have no other offers," he said.
Shorena Latatia is a freelance journalist in Georgia.