UNHCR resumes aid distribution to Chechens in Georgia

The UN refugee agency starts distributing food in the Pankisi Gorge again after a two-week suspension. It also begins handing out refugee cards for the over 3,800 Chechens who recently re-registered with Georgian authorities.

  © UNHCR/Geographic Information and Mapping Unit

AKHMETA, Georgia, August 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today resumed aid activities for more than 3,800 Chechen refugees in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge after a two-week suspension due to heightened security concerns.

On Friday morning, UNHCR started distributing food in the Pankisi Gorge again after no further bombing was reported in the last week. The distribution was progressing smoothly as of mid-afternoon.

The refugee agency also began handing out new refugee cards for the over 3,800 Chechens who had re-registered with the Georgian government in April. The purpose of the re-registration was to give the authorities a clearer picture of the refugee population in the gorge so that they can better protect and assist the displaced people. The identity cards include a photo and signature and are being issued to each registered refugee over the age of 12.

Food distribution in the gorge usually takes place once every two months and lasts for several weeks. The current distribution could take somewhat longer because of the added step of issuing the refugee cards.

Most of the refugees fled Chechnya in 1999 and now live with host families in Pankisi. Nearly 80 percent of the Chechen refugee caseload in Georgia are women, children and elderly.

The conflict in Chechnya has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people, with some 150,000 currently displaced to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia and another estimated 160,000 displaced within Chechnya itself.