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Plight of Displaced in Georgia Buffer Zone

UN Assesses Plight of Displaced in Georgia Buffer Zone

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that its teams have now entered the so-called “buffer zone” north of the Georgian town of Gori, where thousands uprooted by last month’s fighting have taken shelter, after having been unable to access the Russian-controlled area for weeks due to insecurity.

“These first UN missions are an important step in achieving full access,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a news conference in Geneva, adding that the agency now plans to conduct regular assessment missions to the buffer zone between Gori and the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

UNHCR estimates some 192,000 people were forced to flee their homes during the conflict that began on 8 August and involved Georgia, South Ossetian and Russian forces.

Since entering the zone over the weekend, UNHCR teams have conducted two initial assessment missions to four villages north of Gori – Karaleti, Tkiavi, Kitsnisi and Dzevera – and found that most residents appear to have returned to their homes.

In the Karaleti area, close to Gori and right on the boundary of the buffer zone, up to 80 per cent of the population has gone back, Mr. Spindler said. Deeper inside the buffer zone the rate of return is much lower, with less than ten per cent of villagers having come back to the village of Kitsnisi.

“There is still a great deal of fear among the people currently residing in these villages,” noted Mr. Spindler. “Beatings, looting and arson by marauding militias have created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.”

UNHCR teams found that the destruction of buildings and houses is not as widespread as was initially feared and varies from village to village. However, villagers informed the agency that 70 to 80 per cent of this year’s harvest in the visited areas is gone. In addition, there are still a lot of mines and unexploded ordnance, preventing people from going into their fields.

Villagers now rely on firewood for cooking and heating, since the local gas pipeline is no longer functioning. As a result, the price of firewood has risen by 50 per cent. There are also no health services inside the buffer zone, and the population there depends on medical aid and assistance from Gori.

UNHCR reported that school buildings have remained almost intact, but added that the majority of people currently returning are adults and schools remain closed.
“The first assessments show that returnees to the villages in the buffer zone need rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance and the provision of supplementary food items and firewood,” said Mr. Spindler.

ENDS

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