Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Georgia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Georgia , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e1632.html [accessed 23 August 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 2000, Georgia hosted more than 7,600 refugees in need of protection, all of whom were refugees from the neighboring war-torn republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation, except for a small number of refugees from Azerbaijan (13), Afghanistan (3), and Iran (1). According to the government, no asylum claims were pending at year's end.

In addition, more than 272,100 persons remained internally displaced in Georgia at year's end. The overwhelming majority (about 260,200) were ethnic Georgians displaced from Abkhazia. About 11,900 persons remained displaced from South Ossetia, including some 9,500 from Tskhinvali, 2,200 from Znauri, and 200 from Java.

About 42 percent of Georgia's displaced population (114,178 persons) lived in the Samegrelo Region adjacent to Abkhazia. Large numbers of displaced persons had also settled in Tbilisi (33 percent – 88,680 persons), Imereti (12 percent – 33,234 persons), Kvemo-Kartli (4 percent – 11,185 persons), and Kartli (3 percent – 9,364 persons). About six percent of the displaced population lived in other regions. The government reported no significant new displacement during the year.

At year's end, about 19,600 refugees from Georgia were registered in the Russian Federation, the majority of whom were ethnic Ossetian refugees displaced from areas under Georgian government control living in the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia.

In addition, more than 3,500 Georgians sought asylum in Western European countries in 2000, up slightly from about 3,400 in 1999.

Chechen Refugees

Between October 1999 and January 2000, fleeing Chechens negotiated treacherous paths through snow-covered mountain passes, regularly the target of Russian shelling, to reach the Georgian border. At the time, Georgian border police permitted Chechen women, children, and elderly men to enter Georgia. However, they often turned back younger Chechen men, reportedly to dispel the Russian perception that Georgia was offering safe haven to Chechen guerrillas. The government soon announced that Georgia was unable to admit any more refugees and closed the border to fleeing Chechens in early 2000. At year's end, the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation had registered 7,603 refugees from Chechnya.

Because of frigid and stormy conditions, UNHCR and Georgian border officials transferred the initial groups of Chechen refugees by helicopter and road from the increasingly inaccessible Shatili border area to the Pankisi Valley on the northeast border of Georgia – historically home to ethnic Chechens, or "Kists." About 85 percent of the refugees found accommodation in the private homes of friends or relatives in four villages – Duisi, Jokolo, Omalo, and Birkiani. About 15 percent resided in 11 communal centers refurbished by UNHCR. According to UNHCR, living conditions in the communal centers were "extremely poor" during the year.

Georgia's Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation granted the Chechens refugee status on a prima facie basis. According to UNHCR, Georgia "responded to the initial groups of Chechens "in conformity with its international commitments, despite the delicate national and geopolitical dynamics associated with the caseload." However, UNHCR reported that Georgia has no system in place to register or otherwise determine the legal status of Chechen refugee children born in Georgia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), UNHCR, and various national and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided emergency assistance to the Chechen refugees until early August. On August 5, aid deliveries stopped when two ICRC aid workers were kidnapped with their Georgian driver after delivering food in the Pankisi Valley. Although the three workers were released nine days later, the incident sent a shiver through the aid community. UNHCR and several NGOs resumed aid distribution to the Pankisi Valley shortly thereafter, but curtailed sending international staff into the valley, relying instead on local staff.

However, gaps in funding strained UNHCR's ability to provide assistance to all of the Chechen refugees or to compensate the overwhelmingly poor families hosting them. In response, UNHCR attempted to establish priorities in aid distribution, giving preference to female-headed households and those hosting greater numbers of refugees. Many of the refugees reportedly protested the idea, however, forcing UNHCR to suspend the "aid-prioritization" plan. At year's end, UNHCR still faced funding shortages, but continued assisting Chechens in the region.

Abkhazia

Abkhaz separatists won control of Abkhazia and expelled some 300,000 ethnic Georgians from the province in 1993. After a May 1994 cease-fire, some 50,000 to 70,000 displaced ethnic Georgians returned to Abkhazia. About 53,000 of them returned to their homes in the Gali District, which had been populated almost exclusively by ethnic Georgians before the war.

For many, the return to Gali was short lived. In May 1998, tens of thousands were displaced again when fighting resumed in Gali.

Throughout 2000, internally displaced persons reportedly traveled back and forth between their property in Gali and Georgia-proper, despite the fragile peace and lack of security. By year's end, an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Georgians had returned "more or less permanently" to the Gali District, UNHCR reported. However, this figure is a rough estimate because UNHCR had no staff in Gali for security reasons. In addition, many returnees did not de-register as displaced persons in Georgia proper, unsure if and when they might need to flee again.

During the year, UNHCR took steps to promote local integration as a durable solution for the displaced who could not return to their homes. In January, Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze issued a decree establishing a new state commission to implement Georgia's "new approach to internally displaced persons," a move supported by UNHCR. The new approach is designed to promote the "gradual transition from humanitarian assistance to a more developmental and sustainable approach to promote self-reliance of internally displaced persons, without prejudice to their eventual return home," UNHCR said.

Mid-year, the government and international donors – including the World Bank, the UN Development Program, UNHCR, and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – established the "Georgian Self-Reliance Fund" to support projects designed to help the displaced become economically self-sufficient and to integrate into their host communities.

South Ossetia

Ethnic conflict in South Ossetia during 1991 also created tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. Although Georgians and South Ossetians have committed themselves to facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons, in practice, both sides have created obstacles to return, which remained in place in 2000.

During the year, South Ossetian separatists did little to support the return of internally displaced ethnic Georgians to South Ossetia. Consequently, few ethnic Georgians returned to South Ossetia in 2000. By year's end, some 200 displaced Georgian families had returned to South Ossetia – about 32 of whom returned in 2000, according to the U.S. State Department.

The Georgian government, in turn, did not implement proactive measures to help ethnic Ossetians return to their homes in other areas of Georgia. Local officials generally did not evict illegal squatters who had taken over apartments of ethnic Ossetian refugees and displaced persons. Only 11 ethnic Ossetian refugees were known to have repatriated from Russia to Georgia-proper during the year. Statistics on the number of internally displaced ethnic Ossetians who returned to Georgia-proper during 2000 were not available.

Between 1997 and the end of 2000, about 370 Ossetian refugee families (about 1,300 people) repatriated from Russia's North Ossetia to South Ossetia. Of these, 59 families returned during the year, down from 239 in 1999.

Asylum

Georgia signed the UN Refugee Convention in August 1999, after passing a national "Law on Refugees" in 1998. The 1998 "Law on Refugees" replaced provisions in Georgia's Constitution for granting asylum and stripped about 400 formerly deported Meskhetian Turks of their legal status.

Under the law, the Refugee Department within Georgia's Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation registers asylum seekers and conducts status determinations. However, the Refugee Department has reportedly processed few asylum applications, recognizing only four asylum seekers from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as refugees since 1998, and processing no applications during 2000. The government granted prima facie refugee status to some 7,000 Chechens, however.

According to the law, the Refugee Department has three days to "register" an asylum seeker, and up to four months to decide his or her case. Registered asylum seekers receive a "temporary settlement" permit that enables them to reside in areas designated by the government. There, they have access to social services and education for their children while their cases are pending.

Persons denied asylum may appeal the decision, according to the law. However, the appeals procedure had not been fully implemented by year's end.

Recognized refugees receive a "temporary settlement" permit, are allowed to work, and have many of the rights of citizens. However, they must re-register with the Refugee Department annually, and can have their status revoked if they leave Georgia for "temporary residence" in another country or if the conditions that caused them to flee are deemed no longer to exist.

Meskhetian Turks

The Law on Refugees replaced legislation that had enabled returning Meskhetian Turks – who were deported en masse to Central Asia during the Stalin era – to legalize their stay in Georgia. Of nearly 280,000 formerly deported Meskhetians from Georgia, 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.

In March 1999, Shevardnadze issued a decree to begin the process of Meskhetian repatriation within three years. By the end of 2000, however, the government had not introduced legislation to implement the repatriation program, and the vast majority of Meskhetians continued to face official and public opposition to their return. Of the estimated 400 Meskhetians living in Georgia who lost their legal status in 1998, about 200 remained without Georgian citizenship at year's end.

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