A senior United Nations human rights official today called for renewed efforts to find employment and livelihood opportunities for 350,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Georgia, many of whom were driven from their homes by conflict nearly 20 years ago.
“The search for durable solutions for all internally displaced persons in Georgia, whether they were displaced in the early 1990s or 2008, must remain a top priority” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Representative on the human rights of IDPs Walter Kälin said at the end of a four-day visit to the country.
He praised Government progress in recent years to improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes by fighting between the Government and Abkhaz separatists in north-western Georgia in the early 1990s. Tens of thousands more were displaced by the conflict with Russia over South Ossetia in 2008. “I commend the authorities for their commitment and encourage them to pursue their efforts,” he said.
While welcoming the closing of collective centres where some IDPs had been living since the early 1990s, Mr. Kälin reiterated concerns about how IDP evictions were carried out in the last few months in Tbilisi, the capital. He urged the authorities to set clear procedures to ensure that such evictions are carried out in accordance with international standards.
“Internally displaced persons must be treated with dignity, which means they should be given adequate notice of plans to close a collective centre and offered reasonable options for alternative accommodation,” he said. “Evictions must not mean that people lose their livelihoods and access to quality education or health services. While they may in some cases be unavoidable, they must not destroy the modest standards of living that people have achieved.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last month voiced concern at the evictions by police in July and August of hundreds of IDPs from State-owned buildings in Tbilisi.
Mr. Kälin also travelled to displacement-affected areas in Abkhazia. “I was impressed by the positive impact of projects implemented by the international community on returnees living in difficult circumstances in the Gali district, but remain concerned that people are still exposed to the risks of crimes and other acts of violence as well as difficulties to maintain their cultural traditions,” he said.
He voiced concern that prospects to return for those displaced from the Gali district in Abkhazia almost 20 years ago remain low. This situation of protracted displacement should not be allowed to continue and the search for durable solutions cannot be hampered by the current political deadlock, he said, reminding all parties that all IDPs have the right to voluntarily return and have their property returned to them or receive compensation where restitution is not possible.
Mr. Kälin regretted that humanitarian access to several regions of the country continues to be restricted due mainly to legal and administrative obstacles. During his visit he met with relevant ministers and officials, representatives of the international community and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).