Guterres ends mission to Georgia, Russian Federation with visit to South Ossetia

Press Releases, 22 August 2008

Friday 22 August 2008

TSKHINVALI, SOUTH OSSETIA Concluding a four-day mission to Georgia and the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the South Ossetia conflict, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres met Friday with several affected families in the South Ossetia city of Tskhinvali and witnessed the massive relief operation being carried out by Russia's emergency relief organization EMERCOM.

Upon arrival in Tskhinvali on Friday morning, the High Commissioner visited a local hospital which continued to function throughout the conflict, in part by moving patients and the operating theatre to the basement. He also met several affected families in various parts of the battle-scarred city, which has already begun plans for reconstruction.

Guterres met for two hours with the de facto president of South Ossetia, Mr. Eduard Kokoity, and other local officials. As he did earlier in the week with Georgian officials, he stressed the non-political, humanitarian nature of UNHCR's work on behalf of all civilians uprooted by conflict and persecution. Friday's talks focused on aspects that "relate directly to my mandate as UN High Commissioner for Refugees", he said.

"I was reassured by Mr. Kokoity that there will be no discrimination based on ethnicity in the policy of voluntary return of refugees and other displaced persons," the High Commissioner said. "I was also reassured by his commitment to prevent further displacement through the guarantee of safety for all members of the population, independently of their ethnic background.

"We also discussed a whole range of complex humanitarian issues which go far beyond my mandate and in relation to which I will report to the Secretary General of the United Nations," Guterres said before his departure from Beslan airport in North Ossetia.

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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

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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