Much remains to be done to provide adequate housing, employment and access to health care to internally displaced persons in Georgia, which make up to 6% of the country’s population, Amnesty International said in a report released on August 5.
The 43-page report welcomes the government’s efforts to establishing a legal framework protecting the rights of IDPs and acknowledges measures taken to improve the housing of IDPs, but says that concerns remain regarding ongoing lack of adequate housing in many collective centers, as well as regarding integration of the displaced population and their access to economic, social and cultural rights.
“The Georgian government has taken important steps, but housing solutions have to go hand in hand with health care, employment and livelihoods opportunities. This is the only way to fully integrate the tens of thousands of its citizens still living in limbo,” Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme director, said.
“Displaced people need more than just roofs over their heads. They need the government to ensure employment, access to health care and benefits. They also need to be consulted and be able to make the choices affecting their lives,” she said.
Conflicts of last 20 years in Georgia have resulted in “an extremely complex picture of displacement” with statistics often inaccurate and disputed, according to the Amnesty International’s report - In the waiting room: Internally displaced people in Georgia.
The report identifies three groups of internally displaced persons in Georgia.
The largest group is of about 222,000 people displaced as a result of conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in early 90s known as “old IDPs”, including at least 40,000 of those who have returned to breakaway Abkhazia’s Gali district, but are still considered as displaced persons by Tbilisi as their return has been sporadic with no security guarantees.
The majority of these IDPs live either with friends or relatives or in rented or purchased private accommodation and about 42% of them lives in collective centers, which are state or privately owned buildings such as kindergartens, sanatoria, hospitals and hotels. The report says that “most of these buildings are not designed for long-term human habitation, and do not meet the minimum standards of adequate housing.”
There are cases when some of the collective centers have been or will be privatized and IDPs living there face eviction. In one of such case a group of IDPs were evicted from a publishing house in downtown Tbilisi last month and instead were provided with accommodation in Zugdidi district, western Georgia. But because of lack of employment opportunities in rural areas, IDPs are reluctant to move to the Zugdidi district.
“Currently high unemployment remains an especially pressing issue for displaced people,” according to the report. “While there are no official segregated statistics available on displaced people, most recent surveys suggest that they suffer from higher rate o[f] unemployment than the general population.”
According to the State Strategy on IDPs adopted by the government in 2007 and its action plan of 2009 for those living in state-owned collective centers their living space will be transferred in to their ownership. Living space has been transferred to about 7,000 families, or up to 65% of those living in collective centers, by the end of 2009.
The report says that the move is “a major breakthrough” in providing durable housing to displaced persons.
“However at this stage, the provision of durable housing solutions does not involve the estimated 130,000 displaced people living in private sector housing. These residents, almost exclusively displaced by the conflicts of the 90’s, are in limbo pending the finalization of the next phase of the Action Plan,” according to the report.
Another group of IDPs are those about 26,000 people, who were displaced from South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s Kodori gorge (about 2,000) as a result of the August, 2008 war and are not able to return and “will not be able to return in the foreseeable future,” according to the report.
This group of people is known as “new IDPs” with most of them living in 38 newly constructed settlements mostly in Shida Kartli and Kvemo Kartli region.
“The speed with which this [providing accommodation to new IDPs] was carried out has been recognized as a major achievement by the Georgian government, NGOs and donors,” the report said. “Yet serious problems remain. Many of the settlements are located in rural areas with limited options for income generation. Being located far from major towns also makes it difficult to access facilities such as hospitals, shops, schools and government offices.”
The third group, according to the report, consists of those people who were displaced from the Shida Kartli region during the August war, but later returned to their places of residence. Unlike the returnees to the Gali region in Abkhazia, however, this group, mainly from the areas adjacent to breakaway South Ossetia’s administrative border, does not hold IDP status.
“Many of the returnees are coping with a loss of income because of the destruction of infrastructure, the loss of livestock and the loss of the 2008 harvest. Many houses and other buildings were damaged during the armed conflict, and property was stolen during the period of sustained looting that followed,” the report says.
Most of those whose homes in the areas adjacent of breakaway region were destroyed during the August war received one-off assistance of USD 15,000 from the Georgian government to rebuild their homes.
“In spite of this, very little reconstruction has started. Those interviewed by Amnesty International in June 2009, stated that they feared the possibility of new hostilities, and were reluctant to invest money and effort in rebuilding homes given what they perceived as a fragile peace,” according to the report.