Georgia: Buffer zone displaced registered, tell of militia intimidation
As of yesterday (Thursday), some 2,300 people from villages in the buffer zone between the Georgian town of Gori and the breakaway South Ossetia region had registered in Gori as internally displaced people. Some 800 of these IDPs are staying in a tented camp, which was erected earlier this week to accommodate the newly displaced and returnees coming to Gori from other parts of Georgia in the hope of going back to their villages in the buffer zone. Others are being accommodated in municipal centres.
The camp is the result of a partnership between UNHCR, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), who worked hard and quickly to establish decent living conditions for the IDPs. UNHCR has put up 100 family tents and provided the IDPs with mattresses and blankets. Running water and sanitation facilities have been installed in the camp, which is located on the edge of Gori.
Many of the recent arrivals reached Gori on Tuesday and Wednesday, after being forcibly displaced by militias in villages near the boundary with South Ossetia. Several of the displaced told UNHCR that they had fled fighting earlier this month and had just returned to their homes over the weekend. People talked about militias entering the villages, shooting in the air, harassing the inhabitants and looting their property. There were no new arrivals on Thursday.
The newly displaced in Gori all have stories of intimidation, including beatings by the militia in buffer zone villages north of Gori. Others have returned to Gori because they felt unsafe when they arrived back in their villages: they found their houses damaged and looted, their cattle slaughtered. They also said they feared the presence of mines.
The group of 2,300 also includes people who had fled to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, during the recent conflict and now wish to return to their villages in the buffer zone but are prevented from doing so because of the security situation. Long-term IDPs from the 1990s are also part of this registered group. Between 10,000 to 15,000 Gori inhabitants have returned to their city - out of a normal peacetime population of 70,000 - according to the government of Georgia.
A UNHCR assessment mission on Wednesday to villages north of Gori confirmed that many returnees they met were traumatized and scared. Some people had returned to their villages even though basic services such as water supply, medical care and food supplies are not available anymore.
In South Ossetia, displaced people continue to return to their homes. According to the Russian authorities, more than 25,000 people from South Ossetia have returned from the Russian Federation since August 12. People who are still housed in temporary accommodation centres within the Russian Federation are expected to go back to South Ossetia by early September.
The situation on the ground remains complex and unpredictable in Georgia with continuing movements of people. UNHCR teams continue to closely monitor these movements, including potential displacement in the region. 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. Prior to the latest crisis, UNHCR has been working on behalf of some 220,000 previously displaced people, refugees, returnees, asylum seekers and stateless people in Georgia.