The recent wave of eviction of Abkhazian refugees in Georgian capital Tbilisi is provoking the indignation of human rights associations.
By Mariam Jachvadze and Elvira Abdullayeva
Liziko Kaulashvili is a not refugee. But an “Internally Displaced Person”, a more politically correct term used in Georgia to describe the tausends of people evicted from the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the independence of the country in 1991.
Liziko comes from Ckhinvali. After the Georgian-Abkhazia conflict, she left the region and started living with her two little children in Tbilisi. Since 1991, the Hotel “Abkhazia” became her home. Despite poverty, living there was “rather comfortable” as she recalls. Her family had to share four rooms: there was electricity, heating and a public school near the hotel. And Liziko succeed in creating warm relationship with its neighbours.
Since the conflict with the separatist province began in 1992-1993, more than 250.000 people were displaced from Abkhazia and a majority of them found a shelter in the Georgian capital, according to statistics of the Public Defender’s office.
The first wave of resettlement of Abkhazian “refugees” started in July 2010 in Georgia. After a large public outcry the process was temporarily halted while the international community together with the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons drew up set of procedures to ensure that future evictions would be conducted fairly.
Refugees from Abkhazia were living in the city over the last decades and occupying illegally public as well as private buildings.
As a number of “occupied” buildings was state property, the Georgian government was led by international standards to provide them an “alternative housing”.
According to the NGO Amnesty International, “when a safe return is not immediately possible, the government must implement measures to integrate displaced families into local communities and by providing them with adequate housing and access to livelihoods to enhance their self-sufficiency and their ability to voluntary return”.
And in case of occupation of private building, the IDP had to choose between two options: alternative housing or cashing 10 000 dollars. “Sooner or later the process of resettlement should start. Ministry’s decision was absolutely understandable, but we can doubt about the forms and standards it was done”, – underlines Nino Qusikashvili, program coordinator at Public Defender’s Office.
In August 2011, Liziko and about 700 other people were evicted from the hotel “Abkhazia”. Information about the second “resettlement process”, Liziko got only two days before. “Early in the morning, my little grandson, my son, my 70 year-old husband and me were thrown in the street with absolutely no idea where to go”, Liziko said.
Exchange city against village
Most of the Internally Displaced People refused “alternative housing” proposed by Georgian government, most of them being relocated out of the capital Tbilisi in rural regions, where unemployment rate is extremely high.
Liziko insisted on her right to stay in the city. She justifies her choice: “In Rustavi, everything will be foreign for me. Without friends, relatives and people, I can’t rely on anybody to get some help. And there is less chance for my son to get a job, changing school would also be stressful for my little grandson.”
“An adequate accommodation is not only a space, ceiling or floor. It also means access to a medical service or employment opportunities. And this criteria wasn’t foreseen by Ministry”, regrets Nino Qusikashvili. “This is the reason why most of the evicted people preferred staying in the city homeless than moving to the regions”- says Nino.
“Rural areas were not acceptable for them because of the inadequate living standard,” finally concluded the Public Defender’s Office in its annual report.
In September, a demonstration took place in Tbilisi in front of the Council of Europe to protest against the unfairness of the situation. Caterina Bolognese, head of the Council of Europe in the region who carefully watched the process: “some progress has been made compare to the situation in 2010 but improvements remain to be made”.
After one month living in a garage, Liziko found a hostel, a temporary shelter before the winter, hoping to find a “more permanent housing”.
Read the article on cafebabel.com.