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Expert Opinion

Five years on from the Georgia-Russia war: Georgian IDPs still in need

It has been over five years since the war between Russia and Georgia, and much work remains to be done for people who were forced to flee their homes to be able to resume their normal lives. Earlier this month the on-going struggle of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Georgia, who face numerous challenges to accessing adequate housing and livelihoods, came to the fore in the regional media.

One displaced woman who fled South Ossetia, 71-year-old Sidonia Gotshashvili, remembers the pain of her house and others in surrounding villages being burned down during the conflict in 2008.

With her village now under Russian control, she does not think she will ever be able to return. While most of the 138,000 people who were displaced during the war were able to return, some 22,000 others face a similar situation, joining the ranks of those displaced in the 1990s during conflict in the breakaway regions – those that have unilaterally declared their independence – Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

With no resolution to these conflicts in sight and return still largely impossible for IDPs, displacement has become protracted for over 270,000 IDPs.

Partial progress towards a return to normality

Like Sidonia Gotshashvili, many of the displaced people in Georgia now realise that return is a distant prospect. While they still long for home, their focus has turned to improved conditions and assistance in rebuilding their lives.

The government of Georgia has taken considerable steps towards local integration of IDPs since 2008, in line with its State Strategy for IDPs. This has mainly been through improved housing conditions funded by significant donor support. The government also embarked on a revision of existing IDP legislation following parliamentary elections in 2012.

Yet while many IDPs have benefited from housing assistance, this process has not been without its shortcomings. Participation of IDPs has been limited, the most vulnerable IDPs have not been prioritised for assistance, and forced evictions have resulted in worse living conditions in some cases.

Many continue to depend on government benefits as their main source of income, including Sidonia.

New opportunities to address the vulnerabilities and needs of IDPs

As the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs concluded following his visit to Georgia in June of this year, opportunities exist for a more inclusive integrated approach to addressing IDPs, including a re-registration exercise that should provide a more accurate picture of their different vulnerabilities and needs.

At the beginning of this month, the government commenced this 5-month process, through which better data on the number and situation of IDPs should be gathered and subsequently used to make assistance better target their needs. Better data will also provide an opportunity to improve assistance to the estimated 45,000 returned IDPs in the Gali district of Abkhazia, many of whom continue to live in insecurity, poverty and dilapidated housing.

Given the new government’s initiatives for those forced to flee their homes, will Georgia’s displaced be closer to a durable solution by next year’s war anniversary?

Learn more about displacement in Georgia.