31 December 2013 |
Georgia: Internal displacement in brief
As of December 2012
There were up to 206,600 IDPs registered by the government in Georgia as of the end of 2013. Most were displaced in the early 1990s as a result of armed conflict in the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A smaller number were displaced in 2008 by fighting between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia. Talks on humanitarian issues between Georgia, Russia and the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia continued in 2013, but did not achieve any concrete results for IDPs.
Displacement figures are based on the results of a 2013 re-registration exercise led by the Georgian ministry for IDPs. The overall figure is made up of nearly equal numbers of men and women, and includes nearly 67,000 children born to at least one displaced parent. It also includes an estimated 40,000 IDPs who have returned to Abkhazia. There were also around 10,000 people still internally displaced within South Ossetia in 2010, the latest figure available.
A 2013 UNDP study on vulnerability found that displacement left IDPs at a disadvantage in terms of access to land and property. It also showed that their income levels were either comparable with, or slightly higher than poor households in the general population, but that many continued to rely on state subsidies such as the monthly allowance for IDPs as their main source of income. The ministry for IDPs is in the process of developing a livelihoods strategy within the current action plan for the displaced population.
The government continued to provide housing assistance to IDPs living in collective centres. By the end of the year it had allocated new housing units to more than 1,500 families, and registered the ownership of around 1,400 families’ living spaces in over 125 collective centres. However, around 50,000 IDPs still needed housing assistance. The figure does not include those living outside collective centres, most of whom have been left out of housing programmes.
With the exception of the Abkhaz district of Gali, the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia refuse to allow IDPs to return on the basis that a large influx of Georgians would upset the ethnic balance and compromise security. Over the years, tens of thousands of IDPs have returned to Gali, though many movements have been seasonal in order to cultivate land, with families maintaining two residences. Most returnees have been able to retain their registration documents as IDPs. These are issued and only recognised by the Georgian government, allowing them to continue to access rights and benefits in Georgia proper.
Questions remain as to the sustainability of returns, and returnees to Gali have struggled with inadequate housing and limited incomes. Those who returned to areas near the dividing line with South Ossetia were increasingly prevented from accessing homes, land, water and livelihoods in 2013 by the installation of a 50-kilometre fence by Russian and South Ossetian soldiers. Despite the presence of Georgian police in most villages in areas near dividing line with South Ossetia, feelings of insecurity among residents remain high. Better infrastructure is also required.
In line with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Constitutional Court ruled in June that all Georgians displaced by armed conflict should qualify as IDPs, and not only those from “occupied territories” as had previously been the case. Around 300 IDPs displaced in 2008 from Georgian-controlled territory near South Ossetia became eligible for registration as a result. Georgia’s law on IDPs was revised to comply with the court’s decision, and the new law was adopted in March 2014.
The international response to displacement in Georgia has largely focused on supporting the local integration of IDPs who are unable to return through housing, livelihoods and legal programmes. The UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs, Chaloka Beyani, visited the country in June and his recommendations included the continued improvement of IDPs’ housing conditions, including for those in private accommodation and those with disabilities. A 2013 Council of Europe report encouraged Georgia to continue to address IDPs’ humanitarian needs and called on all parties to the conflict to ensure their voluntary return in safety and dignity.