Insecurity forces UNHCR to suspend aid to Chechens in Georgia
AKHMETA, Georgia, August 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has temporarily suspended its aid activities to Georgia's Pankisi Valley, which hosts 3,800 Chechen refugees, amid rising insecurity in the region.
The current suspension of activities followed a request from Georgian authorities and is the most recent in the north-eastern Georgian region, where security concerns and lawlessness have prompted short-term suspensions of aid many times in the past.
"We are concerned that the situation stabilise so that the refugees can remain in safety and continue to receive protection in the Pankisi Valley. We are closely following developments there," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a Friday press briefing in Geneva, adding that the agency hoped to resume work soon.
"The refugees have enough supplies to last them through mid-August after a recent distribution of food and other aid items," he assured.
UNHCR has been working with the Georgian government on improving protection for the refugees in Pankisi, most of whom fled fighting in Chechnya in 1999. Earlier this year, the agency supported the government's re-registration of the refugees in the valley by helping to plan the operation, providing funding and computer equipment, and training government staff. The re-registration allowed the government to develop a clearer picture of the refugee population in need of protection and assistance in Georgia.
The vast majority of the refugees in the valley stay with host families. More than 53 percent are children, and almost half the population is female.
The conflict in Chechnya has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people, with some 150,000 currently displaced to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia and another estimated 160,000 displaced within Chechnya itself. The refugees and displaced people have expressed their reluctance to return home, often due to a fear of ongoing violence, so-called "mop-up" operations in Chechnya or possible recruitment or detention upon return.