UNHCR concern as shelter capacity in Georgia town of Gori is exhausted

UNHCR is concerned about the humanitarian situation in and around the Georgian town of Gori, just south of the boundary with South Ossetia.

A group of displaced people in the centre of Gori.   © UNHCR/I.Arabidze

TBILISI, Georgia, September 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it remains concerned about the humanitarian situation in and around the Georgian town of Gori, just south of the boundary with the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The current shelter capacity in Gori is exhausted, with some 4,200 people registered as internally displaced people (IDPs). All came from villages in the so-called buffer zone between Gori and the South Ossetian boundary. Some 1,200 are in the UNHCR tented camp in Gori, which was set up for internally displaced Georgians just five days ago. Another 1,000 are staying with host families, and some 2,000 are dispersed in 22 collective centres around the city.

UNHCR profiling teams are assisting Georgian registration authorities in determining the exact numbers, places of origin and the possibilities of return for the IDPs.

The agency's initial assessment indicates that some 450 people arrived from their villages within the last week due to massive intimidation by marauding militias. The remaining 3,750 IDPs were on their way back home from Tbilisi and other parts of Georgia where they had sought refuge during the conflict over South Ossetia, but got stuck in Gori when they could not enter the buffer zone.

The latest arrivals from the buffer zone arrived in Gori from the village of Beloti last Friday. They said more than half of the village's population of some 200 people fled Beloti in the early stages of the crisis. Those who remained behind are now leaving due to beatings, harassment, looting and burning of houses.

Some told UNHCR they had been travelling on foot and in hiding for more than two weeks before reaching Gori and the UNHCR tented camp. They also said some 20 elderly and bedridden people remained behind in Beloti because they were unable to walk. One of the IDPs said fleeing villagers left buckets of water by the bedsides of the sick and elderly before leaving.

"Our teams report that IDPs are deeply worried about the future of their families. Uncertain about whether or when it will be safe to return to their villages, they worry about their houses, their harvest and livestock and how they are going to survive the winter," a UNHCR spokesperson said.

With the completion of aid distributions in western and eastern Georgia as well as in Tbilisi, UNHCR staff have been redeployed to Gori to reinforce the team there. UNHCR has opened a provisional field office in the centre of Gori to facilitate the work of its teams, who are working on a winterization plan.

At its height, more than 158,000 people were displaced during the conflict that erupted on August 8 - about 128,000 within Georgia and some 30,000 who fled to the Russian Federation. The vast majority of those who fled to the Russian Federation have now returned to their places of origin in South Ossetia.

Prior to the latest crisis, UNHCR had been working on behalf of some 220,000 previously displaced people, refugees, returnees, asylum seekers and stateless people in Georgia.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Tbilisi, Georgia