High Commissioner on mission to Georgia

Briefing Notes, 19 August 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 August 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres arrived earlier today in the Georgian capital Tbilisi at the start of a four-day mission to Georgia and the Russian Federation. He will assess UNHCR's humanitarian operations in both countries and will meet people displaced by last week's conflict in and around the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia. Mr. Guterres will meet with Georgian and Russian authorities and discuss any further aid they may require.

The High Commissioner will again press for the protection of the civilian population, especially those newly displaced, and for safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to the areas of displacement.

Also this morning, we organized the first humanitarian flight to Batumi in western Georgia. Aid supplies for more than 50,000 people have been flown to Tbilisi but road convoys cannot reach western Georgia, where some 15,000 displaced are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. A UNHCR-chartered Boeing 707, carrying aid from our emergency stockpile in Dubai, landed this morning at Batumi airport at 08:05 local time. Its cargo included 200 tents, 15,000 blankets, 3,000 kitchen sets and 6,000 jerry cans.

UNHCR, which has six offices in Georgia working on behalf of some 220,000 previously displaced people, is rapidly moving ahead with distribution of aid items. Just yesterday, 13 UNHCR teams gathering some 40 staff and 13 trucks distributed humanitarian assistance to some 11,000 internally displaced people. The aid included 11,000 blankets, 5,000 kitchen sets and 4,500 jerry cans. Another ten of our teams visited 50 collective centres accommodating some of the newly displaced population. They assessed the numbers of displaced, their needs and living conditions. Based on these findings assistance will be distributed to them.

A UNHCR emergency team has been deployed to Georgia with 11 specialists so far. They will boost the capacity of our current staff in Georgia of more than 50.

The situation on the ground in Georgia remains volatile and unpredictable. On Sunday, a joint UNHCR and World Food Programme (WFP) convoy managed to enter the town of Gori just south of the boundary with South Ossetia. This was the first time since the outbreak of the conflict on 8 August that UN agencies were given access to that city. UNHCR delivered aid for some 1,500 people, which included jerry cans, kitchen sets and blankets. The goods ware unloaded in a warehouse and will be distributed by local authorities. Earlier that same day, a UNHCR security mission was unable to get through to Gori along the same route.

UNHCR staff reported the town to be mostly deserted on Sunday. They came across some 50 to 60 people gathered in the city centre and waiting for assistance. While the damage to the buildings did not appear extensive, there were clear indications of massive looting of shops and apartments.

After the first UN convoy reached Gori on Sunday, some of those who fled the city were thinking about returning. Those who managed to leave unharmed told UNHCR they were eager to return as soon as possible. But they say they need basic assistance, especially clothes. Others, who have witnessed atrocities and lost relatives during the fighting, are still in shock. They are afraid to return and want to wait until international agencies have established a presence in Gori.

The latest estimates of displacement related to the conflict total more than 158,700 people based on figures provided by the Georgian and Russian governments. It is reported that up to 30,000 people are displaced within South Ossetia. In addition, some 98,000 people are displaced in Georgia proper, including most of the population of the town of Gori. Russian officials in North Ossetia indicate some 30,000 people from South Ossetia are still in the Russian Federation.

During a meeting this morning with the Georgian Minister for Reintegration, Temuri Yakubashvili, High Commissioner Guterres called on the international community to mobilize resources for the humanitarian assistance effort in Georgia.

UNHCR urgently needs additional funds to ensure continued assistance to the newly displaced population in the Caucasus region. Our part of the US$58.5 million Georgia Crisis flash appeal, launched yesterday in New York, amounts to US$16 million for the next six months. This will cover UNHCR's protection, shelter and assistance programmes for the newly displaced in the Caucasus region.




UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Displacement in Georgia

Tens of thousands of civilians are living in precarious conditions, having been driven from their homes by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On the morning of August 12, the first UNHCR-chartered plane carrying emergency aid arrived in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first UN assistance to arrive in the country since fighting broke out the previous week. The airlift brought in 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items were then loaded onto trucks at the Tbilisi airport for transport and distribution.

A second UNHCR flight landed in Tbilisi on August 14, with a third one expected to arrive the following day. In addition, two UNHCR aid flights are scheduled to leave for Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation the following week with mattresses, water tanks and other supplies for displaced South Ossetians.

Working with local partners, UNHCR is now providing assistance to the most vulnerable and needy. These include many young children and family members separated from one another. The situation is evolving rapidly and the refugee agency is monitoring the needs of the newly displaced population, which numbered some 115,000 on August 14.

Posted on 15 August 2008

Displacement in Georgia

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

When fighting broke out between government troops and rebel forces in Chechnya in 1999, over 200,000 people fled the republic, most of them to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. Today, tens of thousands of Chechens remain displaced in Ingushetia, unwilling to go home because of continuing security concerns.

As of early December 2003, some 62,000 displaced Chechens were living in temporary settlements or in private accommodation. Those living in settlements face constant threats of eviction, often by owners who wish to use their buildings again.

Another 7,900 displaced Chechens live in tents in three remaining camps – Satsita, Sputnik, and Bart.

The authorities have repeatedly called for the closure of tent camps and the return of the displaced people to Chechnya. Three camps have been closed in the past year – Iman camp at Aki Yurt, "Bella" or B camp, and "Alina" or A camp. Chechens from the latter two camps who did not wish to go home were allowed to move to Satsita camp or other existing temporary settlements in Ingushetia.

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

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Jordan: Winter Camp Visit

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