Georgia’s Internally Displaced Fear Returning Home
Georgia’s Internally Displaced Fear Returning Home, Say UN Relief Agencies
The United Nations refugee agency expressed concern today over the worsening humanitarian crisis affecting people escaping conflict in Georgia, especially those fleeing the buffer zone between the breakaway region of South Ossetia and tῨe town of Gori.
By late yesterday afternoon, more than 1,200 people, from villages devastated by the fighting in the 26-kilometre-wide buffer zone, had registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) with authorities in Gori, the UN refugee agency reported in a press release.
The new UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR office in Gori has erected some 100 family tents on in a football field on the outskirts of the town in an attempt to shelter the growing number of IDPs.
The IDPs included newly displaced people who have fled the violent militia in the buffer zone as well as people who escaped to Tbilisi after the conflict erupted on 8 August.
Some IDPs have tried returning to their buffer zone villages but claim they were blocked by Russian checkpoints, advising them to not to continue due to widespread lawlessness surrounding the area. Others found their homes damaged and returned to Gori through fear of further attacks.
UNHCR reports that the new IDPs have arrived in Gori with similar tales of intimidation, beatings and looting by militia groups in the buffer zone villages. There have also been unconfirmed reports of civilian deaths resulting from the violence.
“Most of the villagers now escaping south to Gori said they had stayed put when the conflict broke out earlier this month because they were old and weak. The appearance this week of militias had made them change their minds, but they said they had to leave the most vulnerable behind,” the agency said.
Earlier this week, a UNHCR team trying to reach the buffer zone villages were turned back at a checkpoint and told it was not safe to travel in the area. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) had also not been able to access the volatile area for a week.
In Gori itself, it is estimated some 10,000 to 15,000 locals have returned to the town compared to the pre-conflict population of around 70,000, according to the Georgian Government.
Although the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA estimates two-thirds of the 120,000 IDPs will return home once the fighting subsides, it says those who recently returned to their homes in Gori have gone straight back to Tbilisi, “demoralized” and “devastated.”
“Villagers from north of Gori and from South Ossetia can’t imagine returning any time soon, particularly where there are cluster munitions, unexploded ordinance, and landmines in their villages and homes,” UNFPA said in a press release.