Second UNHCR airlift reaches Georgia; aid for 40,000 being distributed

News Stories, 15 August 2008

© UNHCR/Y.Mechatov
UNHCR has distributed blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans to some 1,500 people from South Ossetia now living in a collective centre in Tbilisi, Georgia.

GENEVA, August 15 (UNHCR) Urgent supplies are on the ground for up to 40,000 people affected by the South Ossetia conflict as the UN refugee agency's second airlift arrived in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Thursday.

To date, a total of 66 tonnes of relief supplies have arrived in Tbilisi from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items such as tents, jerry cans, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans are being delivered to the neediest people in and around Tbilisi.

Some 2,000 people have so far received UNHCR's aid, including 1,500 displaced people from the breakaway region of South Ossetia who are now living in a former hospital building in the Georgian capital. Other beneficiaries include some 300 vulnerable Georgians from South Ossetia who had been transferred to Tbilisi from Gori some 60 kilometres north of the Tbilisi and just south of the boundary with South Ossetia as well as people displaced within Gori.

Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to call for free and unhindered humanitarian access and safe passage for uprooted civilians and the aid workers trying to help them. That need was underscored Thursday morning when two UNHCR vehicles were hijacked at gunpoint on the outskirts of Gori.

The UNHCR team was on an assessment mission in the Gori region to identify areas of displacement and to assess the immediate needs of people forced from their homes by the conflict which erupted last Friday.

The team was stopped just outside Gori, where people in unmarked uniforms threatened the two UNHCR staff members and forced them at gunpoint to leave their vehicles and hand over the keys. The two later made it safely back to Tbilisi. Later, authorities called from Gori to say they had recovered the vehicles.

Despite Thursday's incident, UNHCR is moving ahead rapidly with field assessment missions and the distribution of assistance. "The needs are great, especially for the most vulnerable such as children, women and the sick," said the agency in a press release issued Thursday. "There are newborn babies and women in advanced pregnancy among the displaced. Immediate needs include medications for people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Sanitation and hygienic items as well beds and mattresses are in great demand."

A third UNHCR airlift flight is scheduled to land in Tbilisi on Friday morning. In addition, UNHCR is scheduling two flights to Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation next Tuesday and Wednesday. A UNHCR-chartered Antonov-12 is scheduled to bring mattresses, kitchen sets, water tanks, blankets, jerry cans and soap for displaced South Ossetians.

The total number of people uprooted in the conflict is approaching 115,000, according to the latest figures provided by the two governments. Russian officials in North Ossetia indicate some 30,000 people from South Ossetia are still in the Russian Federation. Georgian officials report that up to 15,000 people have fled south into Georgia proper from South Ossetia. In addition, some 68,000 people are displaced in Georgia proper, including most of the population of Gori.