Walter Kaelin, the U.N. Secretary-General's representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons, called on the Georgian authorities to avoid eviction of IDPs the way it had been done in previous months, which he described as “second time” displacement.
Kaelin visited Georgia on September 13-16 for fifth time since 2005 and also traveled to breakaway Abkhazia. Living conditions of IDPs and implementation of the Georgian government’s strategy and action plan to provide durable housing solution for IDPs was the focus of his discussions in Tbilisi and during the meetings with displaced persons.
In the breakaway region, where he also traveled to the Gali district, Kaelin was looking into the condition of those Georgians who have returned to this predominantly Georgian-populated district.
‘Second Time’ Displacement
Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi on September 16, Kaelin praised the Georgian government for its commitment to implement its strategy for providing durable housing solutions for IDPs, saying that “in many cases IDPs were able to receive property and their living conditions are much better now than earlier.”
According to the Georgian ministry in charge of displaced persons, 24,391 IDP families have received privatized apartments or houses, or monetary compensation and further 2,035 IDP households have been given land for farming.
Kaelin, however, said that although it was a positive development that IDPs were receiving “a very good housing” in frames of the government’s strategy and action plan, “but their livelihoods are not improved.”
“Improving housing conditions and improvement of livelihood conditions have to go hand in hand,” he said.
Kaelin said that another source of major concern was related to series of evictions of IDPs, which took place in Tbilisi in July and August.
The process of eviction from several state-owned buildings came under fire from local and international human rights groups, as well as from UN refugee agency and the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population.
He said that eviction process was marred with two major problems: the one related to the way it had been done – giving IDP families a short oral notice about the planned eviction so that they had not enough time to prepare and another problem was related to the authorities’ failure to provide evicted IDPs with proper alternative housing.
“The problem is that the people were moved out and they were not really given real alternative so their situation is worse than it was before,” he said.
“It is not good enough to say: ‘you have some accommodation’ - even if it’s nice accommodation - if it [eviction] means that these people [evicted IDPs] lose their livelihoods, if it means that they lose access to education and health services,” Kaelin said.
“I’ve met such people, who in that sense, are now displaced for the second time and have lost that little they had before in terms of livelihoods and access to services and that’s the problem,” he added.
Kaelin said that he had “very good discussions” with the Georgian authorities on these problems and he thought there was an understanding from the side of the government that these problems required better handling.
“I’m quite optimistic about that,” Kaelin added.
He said that there were some privately-owned buildings in Tbilisi where IDPs were currently residing and owners insisting on getting their property.
“There could be other evictions,” Kaelin said, “but the best way would be not to evict these people, but to do that in a planned way… to avoid kind of situation that we had last month.”
Visit to Sokhumi, Gali
Speaking about the visit to Abkhazia, Kaelin said that prospects for return of all IDPs back to Abkhazia “after so many years still remain very, very low.”
“This situation of protracted displacement should not continue. The right of return has to be recognized and conditions for return have to be created,” he said.
He said that although authorities in Sokhumi allowed “some returns” to Gali district, they “still are not ready to allow for the return of all IDPs” on the entire territory of Abkhazia.
During Kaelin’s visit in Sokhumi, foreign minister of the breakaway region, Maxim Gvinjia, said that the Abkhaz side in 1999 “unilaterally allowed” about 60,000 Georgians to return to the Gali district, Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported. He said further return of Georgians to other parts of the region was not possible as it would aggravate the situation.
International organizations put the number of Georgian returnees to Gali at about 40,000. Despite the return, they are still considered as displaced persons by Georgia as their return has been sporadic with no security guarantees.
Kaelin said there were two major challenges in the Gali district – one related with security situation and another related to problem of “maintaining cultural traditions” of local Georgians.
In Abkhazia Kaelin met with local civil society representatives and local residents in Gali district. Kaelin said that in Sokhumi he was supposed to meet with Abkhaz PM Sergey Shamba and foreign minister, Maxim Gvinjia, “but for reasons I do not know” the scheduled, official meetings were not possible. He, however, said had an opportunity to have a “short” and “informal” meeting with foreign minister Gvinjia when he “came out of the ministry”.