South Ossetia situation

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The first UNHCR humanitarian airlift flight carrying relief supplies for civilians affected by the South Ossetia conflict arrived in Georgia this morning as the estimated number of people uprooted by the fighting approached 100,000.

A UNHCR-chartered Boeing 707 cargo plane landed at Tbilisi airport at 11:45 a.m. local time - that's about an hour ago - carrying 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. The airlift and other emergency response activities, including additional staff deployments, are being financed through a $2 million withdrawal from UNHCR's emergency reserve approved yesterday by High Commissioner António Guterres.

It is the first UN humanitarian flight to reach Georgia since the fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia erupted last Friday. A second UNHCR flight is scheduled tomorrow from Copenhagen, another of our central logistical hubs. The two flights will provide more than 70 tonnes of aid supplies for up to 30,000 people and will augment other relief items already distributed by UNHCR from its warehouses in Georgia.

UNHCR has offered humanitarian support to both Russia and Georgia. We have a presence in both countries, including in South Ossetia and in the North Ossetia region of the Russian Federation. Our six offices and more than 50 staff in Georgia already work for an existing beneficiary population of some 275,000 previously displaced people, refugees, stateless people and returnees. Unfortunately, that figure is now climbing.

According to the latest figures provided by the two governments, the total number of people uprooted in the conflict is approaching 100,000. Russian officials in North Ossetia indicate some 30,000 people from South Ossetia remain in the Russian Federation. Georgian officials say a few thousand have fled south into Georgia proper from South Ossetia, but a registration must be carried out to get an exact figure. Up to 12,000 are estimated by officials to be displaced within South Ossetia. In addition, there are movements in Georgia proper, including from the town of Gori - just south of the boundary with South Ossetia. A UNHCR team which travelled to Gori on Sunday was told by local government officials that up to 80 percent of the population had left, fearing further attacks. That would amount to some 56,000 people from Gori on the move. Officials said most had gone toward Tbilisi and that most would return home once the threat subsided.

Over the weekend, UNHCR and its partners provided aid supplies to some 300 vulnerable Georgians from South Ossetia who had been transferred from Gori to Tbilisi. The agency also provided tents and other supplies to partners in Gori for use by the displaced, if necessary.