As urgent supplies continue to arrive for those affected by the conflict in Georgia, the United Nations refugee agency has repeated its call for free and unhindered humanitarian access and safe passage for uprooted civilians and the aid workers trying to help them.
Many people have been killed and wounded, and large numbers have been uprooted from their homes since heavy fighting began last Thursday in South Ossetia between Georgian and South Ossetian forces. Russian forces have also become involved there and in the separate region of Abkhazia in north-western Georgia.
In a statement issued yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his deep concern at the impact of the fighting on civilians, and called for “safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors to all conflict-affected areas.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the total number of people uprooted in the conflict is approaching 115,000, according to the latest figures provided by the Georgian and Russian Governments.
Russian officials in North Ossetia say some 30,000 people from South Ossetia are still in Russia. Meanwhile, Georgian officials report that up to 15,000 people have fled south into other parts of Georgia from South Ossetia. In addition, some 68,000 people are displaced in the rest of Georgia, including most of the population of the town of Gori.
UNHCR announced that its chief, António Guterres, will travel to Georgia and Russia next week to assess the agency’s humanitarian operations in both countries and to discuss with the two governments any further support they may require.
“Mr. Guterres will continue to press for the protection of the civilian population, particularly the displaced, and for access by humanitarian agencies,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.
Meanwhile, UNHCR’s third humanitarian airlift this week to Georgia is expected to arrive in Tbilisi today, bringing more than 38 tonnes of jerry cans, blankets, kitchen sets and telecommunications equipment. With today’s flight, UNHCR will have delivered more than 100 tonnes of relief supplies so far this week – enough for more than 50,000 people.
It has already distributed aid to some 2,000 people, including 1,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from South Ossetia who are now living in a former hospital building in Tbilisi.
In addition, UNHCR is scheduling two flights to Vladikavkaz in Russia next week to bring mattresses, kitchen sets, water tanks, blankets, jerry cans and soap for displaced South Ossetians.
Two of UNHCR’s vehicles were hijacked at gunpoint yesterday by people in unmarked uniforms on the outskirts of Gori. The vehicles were later recovered and the two UNHCR staff members made it safely back to Tbilisi.
Despite this incident, UNHCR is pressing ahead with field assessment missions and the distribution of assistance.
“The needs are great, especially for the most vulnerable such as children, women and the sick,” the agency said in a news release. “There are newborn babies and women in advanced pregnancy among the displaced. Immediate needs include medications for people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Sanitation and hygienic items as well beds and mattresses are in great demand.”