Georgia issues travel documents to Chechen refugees

News Stories, 15 April 2009

© UNHCR/S.Murray-Jones
Some of the eight Chechen refugees hold up their Convention Travel Documents.

DUISI, Georgia, April 15 (UNHCR) The Georgian government has for the first time granted Chechen refugees the right to travel overseas, earning praise from the UN refugee agency for honouring its promises.

The first Convention Travel Documents issued by Georgia were given to eight Chechens at a ceremony last Friday in the Duisi Community Centre, which is located in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge bordering Russia's Chechen Republic.

Many more of the almost 1,000 Chechen refugees in Georgia are expected to submit requests for travel documents to the local Civil Registration Agency office. It will take about two weeks to process an application and issue the document.

The right to travel is important for refugees because it allows them to take advantage of opportunities for education, training or employment. It can also be an essential prerequisite to a durable solution for refugees, including the possibility of local integration. Moreover, it helps prevent irregular movement as it establishes clear readmission obligations by the issuing state.

"Travel documents are very important for us. Now we can visit our relatives and leave the country," said Chechen refugee Kameta, who has not seen her relatives since fleeing in 1999 to Duisi, one of eight villages in the broad valley region of the Pankisi Gorge. She was the first woman to get the document.

The 1951 Refugee Convention provides the basis for the issuance of the Convention Travel Document, but the experience of UNHCR has shown that its availability for refugees is not always accepted by governments as a matter of course.

Peter Nicolaus, UNHCR's representative in Georgia, hailed the country for standing by the promise it made when it signed the Convention in 1989. "That Georgia remembered at a time when it has many other concerns on its mind, such as over 400,000 IDPs [internally displaced people], makes this even more remarkable," he said.

"You are our friends and members of our society and you deserve the same rights and freedom [as Georgian citizens]," Minister of Refugees and Accommodation Koba Subeliani told guests and refugees attending the presentation ceremony on Duisi.

UNHCR is providing protection and humanitarian assistance to 992 Chechen refugees, around 280,000 Georgian IDPs and 1,500 stateless people in a young democracy that is bearing the consequences of secessionist conflicts in the breakaway zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as a brief conflict last August with the Russian Federation.

By Suzanne Murray-Jones in Duisi, Georgia




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.

Posted on 15 August 2008

Displacement in Georgia

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

Statelessness among Brazilian Expats

Irina was born in 1998 in Switzerland, daughter of a Brazilian mother and her Swiss boyfriend. Soon afterwards, her mother Denise went to the Brazilian Consulate in Geneva to get a passport for Irina. She was shocked when consular officials told her that under a 1994 amendment to the constitution, children born overseas to Brazilians could not automatically gain citizenship. To make matters worse,the new-born child could not get the nationality of her father at birth either. Irina was issued with temporary travel documents and her mother was told she would need to sort out the problem in Brazil.

In the end, it took Denise two years to get her daughter a Brazilian birth certificate, and even then it was not regarded as proof of nationality by the authorities. Denise turned for help to a group called Brasileirinhos Apátridas (Stateless Young Brazilians), which was lobbying for a constitutional amendment to guarantee nationality for children born overseas with at least one Brazilian parent.

In 2007, Brazil's National Congress approved a constitutional amendment that dropped the requirement of residence in Brazil for receiving citizenship. In addition to benefitting Irina, the law helped an estimated 200,000 children, who would have otherwise been left stateless and without many of thebasic rights that citizens enjoy. Today, children born abroad to Brazilian parents receive Brazilian nationality provided that they are registered with the Brazilian authorities, or they take up residence in Brazil and opt for Brazilian nationality.

"As a mother it was impossible to accept that my daughter wasn't considered Brazilian like me and her older brother, who was also born in Switzerland before the 1994 constitutional change," said Denise. "For me, the fact that my daughter would depend on a tourist visa to live in Brazil was an aberration."

Irina shares her mother's discomfort. "It's quite annoying when you feel you belong to a country and your parents only speak to you in that country's language, but you can't be recognized as a citizen of that country. It feels like they are stealing your childhood," the 12-year-old said.

Statelessness among Brazilian Expats

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