Residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia can only benefit from visa-free travel to Schengen group of countries if they accept Georgian citizenship, State Minister for Reconciliation Ketevan Tsikhelashvili confirmed in a conversation with Civil.ge.
According to the Minister, the government’s efforts will be aimed at facilitating access to the residents of the two breakaway provinces to obtaining the citizenship, both through establishing the offices of the relevant public services closer to the Administrative Boundary Lines with the two provinces, and through easing of procedures. The facilitation of the legal procedures, she stressed, must be done fully taking into account the responsibilities Georgia took under visa facilitation process (VLAP) with the European Union.
Opposition party members have said recently that the government should do more so that Abkhazia and South Ossetia residents benefit from visa-free travel. Member of the Movement for Liberty - European Georgia faction Sergi Kapanadze has said during yesterday’s Parliament session that the Status-Neutral Travel Documents (SNTD) could have been promoted for this purpose.
SNTDs were established as a part of previous administration’s effort to resolve problems with identity documents and overseas travel of the residents of the two regions, and also in a bid to build closer ties with the rest of Georgia.
Tsikhelashvili notes, that SNTDs were never a part of VLAP negotiations. Holders of these documents may, however, receive travel visas from the twelve countries that recognize them.
When it comes to citizenship issues, sources familiar with the matter tell Civil.ge that only those residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that hold USSR passports issued in these provinces, or who can prove their residence before 1993 are currently automatically eligible for the Georgian citizenship. For persons born after that date, or having no proof of residence, eligibility for citizenship would be less straightforward to establish.
In the majority of cases, their personal identity data has been kept in the central registry of then Soviet Republic capital – Tbilisi. Upon dissolution of USSR, Georgia has automatically granted citizenship all of its residents at the time, unless they expressly opted out.