Georgia: forced suspension of aid deliveries into Pankisi Valley
Security problems and rising crime have forced UNHCR to suspend aid deliveries into Georgia's Pankisi Valley region, which hosts some 7,000 Chechen refugees. The already tense situation has deteriorated over the past week, with demonstrations in the area's main town of Ahmeta calling for improved law and order in the Pankisi Valley. The Georgian government has responded by establishing checkpoints in and around the valley.
While UNHCR's office in Ahmeta remains open, the authorities have advised a suspension of aid deliveries into the valley for the time being because of the security concerns. A full schedule of deliveries had been planned for January to bring in a two-month WFP food ration for refugees, flour and sugar for host families, as well as blankets, soap, detergent, stoves and firewood. The last food distribution took place in December, and kitchen sets and mattresses were distributed last week. Some 80 percent of the refugees in the valley live with local families, most of whom are ethnic Chechens.
Amid concerns about possible pressures on refugees to return to Chechnya, UNHCR met with the Georgian Minister for Refugees and Accommodation earlier this week to stress that any return of Chechen refugees must be voluntary. The appeal was well received by the minister. The minister also reiterated that the government wishes to improve security in the Pankisi Valley. UNHCR hopes that humanitarian aid will be able to get through to Pankisi again soon.
Hundreds of thousands of Chechens have been uprooted by the conflict in Chechnya since 1999. In addition to the 7,000 who fled to Georgia, there are 150,000 Chechens in Ingushetia and another 160,000 displaced within Chechnya itself.