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Earlier this month was the fifth anniversary of the war between Russia and Georgia. Much work remains to be done for people who were forced to flee their homes to be able to resume their normal lives. Last week the on-going struggle of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Georgia, who face numerous challenges to accessing adequate housing and livelihoods, came to the fore in the regional media.
One displaced woman who fled South Ossetia, 71-year-old Sidonia Gotshashvili, remembers the pain of her house and others in surrounding villages being burned down during the conflict in 2008.
With her village now under Russian control, she does not think she will ever be able to return. While most of the 138,000 people who were displaced during the war were able to go home, some 22,000 others face a similar situation to Sidonia. They join the ranks of those displaced in the 1990s during conflict in the breakaway regions that have unilaterally declared their independence - Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
With no resolution to these conflicts in sight and return still largely impossible for IDPs, displacement has become protracted for over 270,000 IDPs.
Like Sidonia Gotshashvili, many of the displaced people in Georgia now realise that return is a distant prospect. While they still long for home, their focus has turned to improved conditions and assistance in rebuilding their lives.
The government of Georgia has taken considerable steps towards local integration of IDPs since 2008, in line with its State Strategy for IDPs. This has mainly been through improved housing conditions funded by significant donor support. The government also embarked on a revision of existing IDP legislation following parliamentary elections in 2012.
Yet while many IDPs have benefited from housing assistance, this process has not been without its shortcomings. Participation of IDPs has been limited, the most vulnerable have not been prioritised for assistance, and forced evictions have resulted in worse living conditions in some cases.
Many continue to depend on government benefits as their main source of income, including Sidonia.
As the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs concluded following his visit to Georgia in June, opportunities exist for a more inclusive integrated approach to addressing IDPs, including a re-registration exercise that should provide a more accurate picture of their different vulnerabilities and needs.
At the beginning of this month, the government commenced this five-month process, through which better data on the number and situation of IDPs should be gathered and then used to make assistance target their needs more closely. Improved data will also provide an opportunity to improve assistance to the estimated 45,000 returned IDPs in the Gali district of Abkhazia, many of whom continue to live in insecurity, poverty and dilapidated housing.
Given the new government’s initiatives for those forced to flee their homes, will Georgia’s displaced be closer to a durable solution by next year’s war anniversary?
Learn more about displacement in Georgia.
Nadine Walicki is senior country analyst for the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, Cyprus and Turkey with the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).