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"Hazelnut refugees" may soon be able to sleep at home again

News Stories, 26 August 2008

© UNHCR/M.Sunjic
The mayor of Anaklia (right) points across the Enuri River to Abkhazia.

ANAKLIA, Georgia, August 26 (UNHCR) Conflict may have forced the people of Ganmuhuri to flee their homes in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, but it could not stop them from returning to harvest their precious hazelnuts.

A UNHCR team came across the displaced group of 59 families when they went late last week to the village of Anaklia in western Georgia to assess protection needs. The UN refugee agency returned later with blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans for the newcomers.

The families (about 240 people in total) comprise the entire population of Ganmuhuri, which lies across the Enuri River from Anaklia in a small ethnic Georgian pocket of Abkhazia. On August 8, fighting erupted in another breakaway region South Ossetia and later spread to parts of Abkhazia.

When Abkhaz forces took control of the Georgian pocket, the people of Ganmuhuri were too afraid to stay in their homes overnight. Every evening they cross the river by boat and seek safety with host families in Anaklia, only to return to their homes and land in the morning.

"We call them hazelnut refugees," said Anaklia's mayor, Gela Lemonjava. "It is the height of the hazelnut harvest, so they go back to collect hazelnuts in the day and come to sleep in our village when night falls," Lemonjava explained.

"What we witness here is called night displacement," added Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR's emergency coordinator in western Georgia. She has seen similar situations in Sri Lanka, where the UN refugee agency also helps tens of thousands of displaced people.

But an end to their exile is in sight. Tensions have been easing in the region, with Russian Federation forces seen moving out of western Georgia. UNHCR expects that the "hazelnut refugees" will soon be able to sleep at home again.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Anaklia, Georgia

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UNHCR country pages

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.

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Displacement in Georgia

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Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

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After more than forty years of internal armed conflict, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Well over two million people have been forced to flee their homes; many of them have left remote rural areas to take refuge in the relative safety of the cities.

Displaced families often end up living in slum areas on the outskirts of the big cities, where they lack even the most basic services. Just outside Bogota, tens of thousands of displaced people live in the shantytowns of Altos de Cazuca and Altos de Florida, with little access to health, education or decent housing. Security is a problem too, with irregular armed groups and gangs controlling the shantytowns, often targeting young people.

UNHCR is working with the authorities in ten locations across Colombia to ensure that the rights of internally displaced people are fully respected – including the rights to basic services, health and education, as well as security.

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