High Commissioner's mission to Georgia and the Russian Federation

Briefing Notes, 22 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 22 August 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today concludes a four-day mission to Georgia and the Russian Federation that included visits with people uprooted by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

Following discussions with high-ranking Georgian authorities on Tuesday, Guterres met in Moscow on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They focused on humanitarian cooperation between UNHCR and the Russian Federation in a number of areas, including strengthening joint emergency response mechanisms. Much of the discussion focused on humanitarian concerns linked to the South Ossetia situation as well as broader protection-related issues for affected civilian populations.

Guterres and Lavrov discussed humanitarian access, both in relation to areas of Georgia proper where military movements are still taking place and to South Ossetia itself. They also examined humanitarian assistance and protection in North Ossetia, which has received thousands of people who fled South Ossetia. They discussed the process of, and prospects for, voluntary return. They also agreed on the principle of the non-discriminatory nature of the right of return for all civilians forced to flee.

Russian authorities estimate more than 30,000 people from South Ossetia fled to North Ossetia. Another 128,000 were estimated to have been displaced in Georgia.

While in Moscow, the High Commissioner also visited the new emergency coordination centre operated by EMERCOM, the Russian emergency relief agency with which UNHCR has a longstanding cooperation agreement. On Thursday evening in Vladikavkaz, he met with Sergey Shoigu, minister for civil defense, emergencies and disaster response.

Guterres also held talks with the head of Russia's Federal Migration Service (FMS), Konstantin Romodanovsky, who accompanied him in his visits to refugee sites in North Ossetia. Their talks included a thorough analysis of recent substantial progress in the development of Russia's asylum system.

After arriving in Vladikavkaz, the High Commissioner visited refugees and displaced people from South Ossetia and praised the rapid and effective response to their needs by Russia's humanitarian agencies, including EMERCOM and FMS. Uprooted people in two church-sponsored accommodation centres were unanimous in their desire to return to South Ossetia as soon as they felt it was safe.

Guterres noted that UNHCR always prefers voluntary repatriation and said he hopes this will be possible very soon.

Today, Guterres is visiting South Ossetia on a mission aimed at evaluating the humanitarian situation as well as the possibilities for humanitarian access and seeing first-hand the conditions for the return of those uprooted by the crisis. He is the first senior international official to travel to South Ossetia since the conflict erupted in early August. Noting that under the current circumstances the only way to enter South Ossetia was from North Ossetia, Guterres expressed his appreciation to Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian authorities for facilitating his humanitarian mission.

UNHCR will continue its humanitarian assistance based on a strictly non-political approach while stressing the non-discriminatory nature of humanitarian action for all of the people affected by the conflict and emphasising the right of return for all of the displaced regardless of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.

Meanwhile in Georgia, the large scale distributions of aid are in full swing. Our teams completed yesterday the distribution of assistance in Tbilisi, handing out more than 7,000 blankets and 3,200 jerry-cans. We have now exhausted our stocks in the Georgian capital with a total of more than 42,000 blankets, 9,900 kitchen sets and 17,900 jerry-cans distributed to some 40,000 people in nearly 200 locations since the crisis began on 08 August.

In Western and Central Georgia, UNHCR estimates that there are up to 25,000 people in need of assistance. Yesterday, our teams distributed assistance to some 500 displaced in the city of Senaki. These IDPs have been in the region already since 1992 and are now facing a new hardship as collective centres accommodating them have been damaged by the bombings. The UNHCR team assessing the damages concluded that immediate reparations are needed to provide proper shelter before the winter sets in.

Also yesterday morning, the first UNHCR convoy to the Gori region left Tbilisi carrying 1,000 blankets, 110 tents and 300 jerry-cans. Our staff reported the town still to be mostly deserted. According to mainly elderly people who remain in Gori, the main obstacles for return are the prevailing insecurity and lack of food and other basic goods. Many of the IDP population identified in the Ateni Valley are also short of food, non-food items, medicine and sanitary materials.

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The High Commissioner

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

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

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

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

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