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

News Stories, 2 September 2008

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

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

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Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

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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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