Thursday, January 20, 2011

Georgia starts new wave of refugee evictions

Just what is Georgia?
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Situated at the juncture of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. Georgia covers a territory of 69,700 km² and its population is almost 4.5 million. Georgia's constitution is that of a representative democracy, organized as a unitary, semi-presidential republic. It is currently a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Community of Democratic Choice, the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, and the Asian Development Bank. The country aspires to join NATO and the European Union.

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia on Thursday embarked on a new wave of evictions of hundreds of people displaced by war from state-owned buildings the government hopes to privatize.

The evictions, which started in August, reflect an effort to tackle a massive refugee problem stemming from conflicts in the early 1990s in the rebel Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions and again in 2008 when Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war.

The Georgian government says there are around 1,500 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who need be resettled.

But the IDPs to be evicted reject alternative accommodation in rural areas close to rebel regions, saying that resettlement there would leave them without sources of income and new housing options lack livelihood opportunities.

Police sealed off a temporary refugee shelter in the outskirts of the capital Tbilisi on Thursday and detained several activists who were trying to block the way of trucks and buses taking IDPs to villages.

"Georgia might be the only country in the world that has a ministry for refugees. This ministry has been created to destroy and humiliate the Georgian people," Malkhaz Kordzaia, a refugee from Abkhazia, told reporters at the scene.

Those from Abkhazia have lived in Tbilisi and its outskirts -- many in old hospitals, barracks, institutes and kindergartens -- for 17 years after over 200,000 fled the rebel Black Sea region as it threw off Georgian rule with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

There have been a series of small street rallies in the past few weeks protesting against expected evictions.

Some opposition activists arrived at the scene of evictions on Thursday, promising more protests.

"We will fight with every drop of our blood against this government," opposition activist Kakha Kukava said.

Georgia's Ministry for IDPs from Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees rejected the criticism.

"These buildings were occupied illegally ... All IDPs were warned in advance and will move to new houses," said ministry chief administrator Valery Kopaleishvili.

According to the ministry, about 10,000 families displaced from Abkhazia in the early 1990s were granted houses in Tbilisi but there were not enough resources in the capital to provide everyone with dwelling space.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed concern last summer that the evictions "have not been undertaken with the necessary transparency or circulation of information," but said progress was being made to improve procedures.

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