1 Nov 2013
IDPs in Georgia: Still Waiting for Better Life
Since the conflicts of the1990s and 2008 August War, Georgia has experienced a high influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), which has further complicated the country’s economic and social problems. Conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the 1990s have caused around 236,000 people to become internally displaced. Later, due to the 2008 August War, 17,000 people had to flee from their homes. Moreover, there are “3,000 people who have been displaced more than once” (IDMC, 2012, pg 3). As a result, there are 265,109 IDPs registered as of April 2012,largely concentrated in the capital (98, 550) and western part of Georgia (89,538 in Samegrelo region and 25, 539 in Imereti region) (IDP Figures, MRA).
There are different social and economic problems that IDPs face in Georgia – most notably obstacles to resettlement, unfavorable living conditions, high unemployment rates, and lack of awareness of IDP issues among the population at large. The Government of Georgia has taken steps to address some of these issues, but implementation is still lacking. In 2007, the Government of Georgia adopted the State Strategy for IDPs which focused on achieving two main goals: creation of conditions for the dignified and safe return of IDPs and support decent living conditions for the displaced population and their participation in society (GoG, 2 February, 2007). Later, in 2012 the government introduced an action plan for the implementation of the State Strategy on IDPs 2012-2014, which focuses on socio-economic integration of IDPs by providing durable solutions to the housing problems, reducing dependency on the State and integration of vulnerable IDPs into the state social assistance programs.
Although the government has started the resettlement process, there are many obstacles related to resettlement. The most problematic issue is that resettlement procedures are largely violated. For example, IDPs are given very short time periods to move out. Similarly, they do not have adequate information on where they will be resettled and what conditions await them. Many local and international NGOs have criticized authorities for violating IDPs’ rights. Walter Kaelin, UN Secretary General’s representative on human rights of internally displaced persons, described the resettlement process as “second-time displacement” (Civil Georgia, 2010).
It is also important to note that the Government of Georgia’s response to displacement as a result of the 1990s conflict and displacement following the 2008 War has considerably differed. Approximately 8,000 families, who were displaced in 2008, got a “newly constructed cottage in a purpose-built settlement, a refurbished apartment in an existing village, or $10,000 in lieu of these housing options“(IDMC, 2012, pg.5). Although the government has acted promptly to provide housing for IDPs, this process has not been without its setbacks. For example, the cottages provided to IDPs had defects and needed repair.
In contrast to this pattern of resettlement, only ten percent of the IDPs displaced in 1990s have benefited from housing solutions. Others are still living with friends or relatives or occupy hospitals, schools and other previously state-owned buildings, which are not adequately equipped for housing (IDMC, 2012, pg.5).
Several factors explain this issue, such as the discrepancy in the government’s response to displacement. First of all, during the 1990s, Georgia was facing significant economic problems coupled with weak state institutions and internal political tensions. Moreover, there was a greater emphasis on the return of IDPs rather than integrating them into local communities.
Following the 2008 August War, the government’s approach shifted toward ensuring social and economic integration of IDPs rather than continuing the rhetoric of return of IDPs, which seems to be a distant prospect. Different NGOs and think tanks have proposed policy recommendations on how to improve existing social and economic problems, especially unemployment and resettlement processes. Nino Kalandarishvili, Director of the Institute for the study of Nationalism and Conflict, authored a policy paper “How IDPs see the ways of solving their problems?” and lists several recommendations, including the importance of transparency in resettlement of IDPs to new places. The majority of IDPs do not know where they will live and what kind of housing they will be offered (Kalandarishvili, N, 2012, pg.7). Furthermore, it is important that IDPs have the opportunity to register new houses as their own property. This will stimulate them to become more actively involved in social-political life (Ibid).
Another pressing problem that IDPs face is unemployment. Officially, the rate of unemployment in Georgia is 16% but some experts explain the figure is about 32% (IDMC, 2012, pg.5). Taking into consideration the high rate of unemployment, IDPs are especially struggling with this problem. Several factors have contributed to this problem, including the lack of job training and insufficient skills .In a survey carried out by the Conciliation Resources and Caucasus Research Resource Center in 2011, only 18% of respondents said that they are gainfully employed. Several IDP-led civil society groups, local and international organizations have implemented job training programs to address the employment problem. For example, Charity Humanitarian Center “Abkhazeti” has had several programs aimed at supporting employment and self-employment processes in IDP communities, including Income Generation and Business Support Initiative, IDP Vocational Training and Service Center and others. Such programs have had a positive impact but greater results could be achieved with more funding and cooperation among NGOs working to achieve the same goal.
The Government of Georgia has also included elements of socio-economic integration in its 2012-2014 Action plan, but due to limited funding and urgency, the Government of Georgia puts more emphasis on ensuring durable housing solutions for IDPs than providing employment opportunities. Thus, addressing unemployment among IDPs requires significant international donor support.
Another issue facing the IDPs in Georgia is the lack of awareness among the general population about the problems facing the IDPs, which can be partly attributed to media. The Georgian media has been reluctant to cover problematic issues and challenges facing IDPs. According to the study carried out by “Internews Georgia” in May 30-December 31, 2011, TV channels do not adequately cover existing problems that IDPs face. Biggest TV channels such as Imedi, Rustavi 2 and Public Broadcaster “rarely get interested in the problems of IDPs even if there is enough reason for covering the topic. Issues that are connected with IDPs are mainly discussed along with some other topics” (Beridze & Dzvelishvili, 2011, pg 142).
There is also a dichotomy of IDP coverage in the media – one side is mostly critical of the government’s actions and the other highlights the successes and progress. TV channels such as Kavkasia and Maestro broadcast the actions of the government mostly in a negative way while covering the resettlement of IDPs. On the other hand, TV channels such as Rustavi 2 and Imedi tend to ignore problematic topics and in rare instances when they cover IDP issues, it is to usually to highlight the government initiatives to solve the problems of IDPs (Beridze&Dzvelishvili, 2011. pg.142).
Several factors explain the lack of media coverage. First of all, Georgia is quite concerned about its “image” on the international stage. Thus “airing the dirty laundry” by showing IDPs problems is not perceived to be in Georgia’s best interest. Secondly, the public at large is not quite interested about challenges that IDPs face. Thirdly, the IDP community does not have a platform to influence country’s political, economic and social life, making their neglect by the media and the rest of the society that much easier.
Although there are several local and international NGOs and IDP-led civil society groups, their activities are not fully covered, thus often IDPs do not have information on on-going projects in which they can participate. This lack of information further contributes to the obstacles of IDP integration and participation in country’s social and political life.
The Government of Georgia has adopted state strategy on IDPs in 2007 and also introduced an action plan for 2012-2014 to implement the state strategy. There have been numerous shortcomings while implementing this strategy. Similarly, while international donor-funded programs have made significant contributions to improving the plight of the displaced in Georgia, some gaps still remain. Both the Government of Georgia and international community can make several improvements in order to ensure the protection of IDPs rights and better integration into local social and economic life.
1. Improve interagency coordination on local and international level. In order to avoid past misunderstandings during the resettlement process, it is very important to have good communication between state authorities and IDPs. Moreover, the government should ensure better cooperation among different ministries and state bodies so that the process of resettlement is better coordinated. Interagency coordination is vital on international level because cooperation among international organizations, which work on IDP related issues, ensures that duplication of programs can be avoided and better results can be achieved.
2. Improve media outreach to raise awareness and provide IDPs a platform. Taking into consideration the results of a media monitoring project which revealed media’s reluctance to cover problematic issues that IDPs face in Georgia, it is vital to increase media outreach and ensure that TV channels devote sufficient time to cover IDPs problems and provide follow up on stories covered. Furthermore, increased media outreach will result in greater transparency of government actions. The media should perform the role of a watchdog to ensure that legal procedures are fulfilled during resettlement processes, which often has not been the case in the past.
3. Increase funding to adequately meet the IDP needs. In order to provide durable housing for IDPs, the government should increase the funding for the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia. Similarly, it is vital that international donors provide more funding for implementing various grassroots projects in IDP communities. Current small-scale projects reach only a small number of beneficiaries and cannot adequately address the needs of the entire IDP population. In order to undertake large-scale projects and reach more beneficiaries, it is vital to have more funding.
IDMC.(Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2012). Summary “Georgia: Partial Progress Towards Durable Solutions for IDPs.
IDP Figures, MRA. (Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia) http://mra.gov.ge/main/ENG#section/50
Decree #47 of the Government of Georgia on Approving of the State Strategy for Internally Displaced Persons –Persecuted (2 February, 2007)
The Government of Georgia “Action Plan for the implementation of the State Strategy on IDPs during 2012-2014”
Beridze&Dzvelishvili,(2011) Reporting about the state of Internally Displaced Persons by Georgian TV Channels, Internews Georgia
Kalandarishvili, N (2012) How IDPs conceive the solutions of their problems, Heinrich Boll Stiftung