Georgia: IDPs have found homes, but not work
|Publication Date||18 August 2009|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Georgia: IDPs have found homes, but not work, 18 August 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ac62c31a.html [accessed 23 July 2014]|
A EurasiaNet Photo Story by Molly Corso: 8/18/09
The Georgian government created housing in a matter of months for the thousands of families displaced by the 2008 war with Russia. But nearly a year later, one key question remains – how to provide the work these families need.
In the tiny new settlement of Khurvaleti, nestled in the foothills that separate the Georgian region of Shida Kartli from the breakaway region of South Ossetia, 139 families are scraping out an existence.
The seven identical rows of white cement houses, broken up by patches of gardens and the occasional hen pen, are the product of a massive government effort financed by international donors to create durable housing for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Since the 2008 war, nearly 21,000 IDPs have been resettled in 36 new villages like Khurvaleti or in renovated apartment buildings, according to the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodations. The government spent 10 million lari (about $6.08 million) on the project this year; figures for 2008 were not immediately available from the Ministry of Finance.
The villages draw cautious praise from international organizations and non-governmental organizations, with one critical catch – the lack of job opportunities.
"I think the most important problem is the issue of their employment," commented Zurab Bendianishvili, the head of a coalition of non-governmental organizations working with IDPs,
"In general, these are people from villages ... and most of them don't have land plots."
Only 16 out of the 36 settlements come with plots for farming.
Many IDPs, Bendianishvili says, only have a 28-lari (approximately $17) government payment as monthly income along with humanitarian aid rations of macaroni, flour, oil, sugar and salt. These families "are simply hungry," he observed.
"How are they supposed to live? There is no town, no infrastructure, no land," Bendianishvili said in reference to the largest IDP village, Tserovani, where some 8,000 people live about 13 kilometers from Tbilisi. "They are completely dependent on humanitarian aid and the financial support from the government."
Georgia's chronic unemployment woes add to the difficulty. Official statistics report that slightly more than 16 percent of the working-age population is jobless. Unofficially, however, many economists put the number closer to 50 percent.
That situation has made Tbilisi a magnet for job seekers from throughout the country. Employment opportunities are far slimmer outside of the capital.
Those in charge of the distribution of houses and land – the mayors and heads of local government (gamgebeli in Georgian) from formerly Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia – maintain that each IDP family chose a settlement based on their own "wishes."
That choice included whether or not there would be land plots for farming near the settlements.
"[T]hey [the government] built the homes in different places: in rural areas and in places closer to town," related Davit Datashvili, the former gamgebeli for the village of Kurta in Georgian-controlled South Ossetia. "People selected for themselves. Some said I lived in a village and now I don't want to.... "
Nonetheless, Datashvili stressed, the employment problem is severe.
"When these people were forced to leave, they did not just lose their homes. The worst thing was they lost their livelihood. They were farmers, they all had fruit orchards ... " he said.
In Khurvaleti, where each cottage received a 500-600-square-meter plot of land in a nearby field, IDPs echo that assessment. Although the lots are roughly the average minimum size for Georgian farmers, IDPs say there is not enough land to support their families.
"What are we supposed to do here? We don't have any fruit [orchards] or anything," said Naira Javakhishvili, a middle-aged former school principal. "[My husband] works wherever there is some demand, like if someone needs a digger or something ... "
Datashvili relates that gamgebelis essentially act as employment brokers, passing on word to IDPs from their villages in South Ossetia about companies that want to hire IDPs.
Azerbaijani energy company SOCAR (State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic) is one firm that has reportedly expressed such an interest, but similar opportunities are rare.
Nor does the situation necessarily improve in Tbilisi, where several hundred families are still living in collective centers.
Some IDPs hope the capital's size alone – some 1.23 million people – will help increase their chances for employment.
One young mother of two from the village of Akhalgori said that her family is waiting in Tbilisi for a $10,000 government payment in lieu of housing because they believe it will be easier to survive in the capital.
"Of course, here it is hard," said Maka Paliashvili. "If my husband makes 10 lari (about $6), that is still something."
To date, about 1,300 people have received the $10,000 payment in lieu of government-supplied housing, according to the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation.
Valeri Kopaleishvili, an advisor to Minister for Refugees and Accommodation Koba Subeliani, states that the government has no specific employment program for IDPs, but affirms that "a lot" of IDPs are public employees who can continue their jobs in the new villages. Farmers, he added, can make use of the land plots that adjoin villages.
At the same time, he claimed, the government "is working together with NGOs and international organizations to create some employment possibilities" in the IDP villages.
NGOs and international organizations interviewed by EurasiaNet had no information about such a plan, however.
Potential employment worries aside, though, the government sees its primary task – the provision of durable housing – as a mission accomplished.
Said Kopaleishvili: "[G]enerally, it is done."
Editor's Note: Molly Corso is a freelance reporter and photojournalist in Tbilisi.