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NGOs’ special statement on situation in Abkhazia

25.08.2020

 
On 18 August 2020, non-governmental organizations called on the Georgian government to strengthen humanitarian and medical assistance to Abkhazia amid the sharp explosion of COVID-19 in the region. The above was quickly responded by the Office of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality.

The following signatories welcome the efforts of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality and take the opportunity to draw the attention of the State Minister and the Georgian Government to the following issues:
  • The window of opportunity and the passive government
The election of the new de facto president in Abkhazia, the positive messages of the so-called political establishment of Abkhazia and the issues related to COVID-19 have increased prospects for Georgian-Abkhaz cooperation and opened a window of new opportunities in the Georgian-Abkhaz relations. In this context, the passivity of the Georgian government and the lack of new, responsive steps clearly show that the state reconciliation policy needs to be intensified and given new impetus. It is noteworthy that to date, the Georgian government has made little use of the resources and expertise of the civil society in the peace process. Recent proof of the passivity of the state policy was the vacant position of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality for a month and a half, as well as the abolition of the Ministry of IDPs in 2018.
  • Pension for older persons and social allowance for IDPs
IDPs and older persons living in Gali have not been able to get their pensions or social allowances for months. Due to the closure of checkpoints, IDPs/pensioners living in Gali, for whom their pension/ allowance is often the only source of livelihood, are virtually cut off from the areas controlled by the Georgian government. Although the checkpoint is periodically opened by the Abkhaz side only in one direction, the prospect of being placed in a two-week mandatory quarantine area for purchasing necessities, products or medicines makes the opening of the checkpoint senseless for the residents of Gali.
  • Education
The signatory organizations welcome the decision of the Georgian authorities to admit the school leavers from the occupied territories to higher education institutions without passing exams, however, given that the process of Russification of education is intensive in Gali, many young people find it difficult to continue their education in Georgian, which necessitates additional assistance.

In the context of the pandemic, the issue of involving Gali schools in the online educational process remained beyond the proper attention of the authorities. If the educational process continues in online format, the students, who live near the dividing line in the Gali district and go to school on the Georgian-controlled territory, will be deprived of the opportunity to be involved in the educational process due to lack of appropriate technical equipment or poor internet coverage.
  • Medical service
Quarantine restrictions have put the population of the Gali district in particularly difficult situation in terms of receiving medical services. Gali and Saberio hospitals do not have medicines or equipment; medicines cannot be sent or delivered in time.

Residents of Gali, who often come to the territory controlled by the Georgian government to receive emergency medical services, have to spend two weeks in mandatory quarantine, due to which, they receive urgent services late. Patients with serious health condition, including oncology patients, who need chemotherapy but do not want to be placed in a two-week quarantine area, no longer enter the Georgian-controlled territory. Due to this, the health condition of many people has already worsened.

To avoid quarantine, a number of patients tried to cross the Enguri River to reach the Georgian-controlled territory. Due to this, several patients only accidentally survived drowning. Dozens of people have recently been arrested and fined by the Russian military for crossing the so-called border.

Patients often have to wait 6-7 hours for the emergency crews to reach the Enguri Bridge. In one case, a patient, who was suffering from unbearable pain and was in need of surgery, was carried to the Georgian-controlled area by relatives, as ambulance was unable to access the Enguri bridge. The decision on urgent surgery was made only after 24 hours, however, the patient was initially placed in quarantine without being examined.
  • Socio-economic situation - Crisis plan without IDPs
The anti-crisis plan adopted by the government in relation to the pandemic did not address the specific needs of thousands of IDPs or fellow citizens living in Gali or Akhalgori.

Due to the closure of the checkpoint, the conflict-affected population, who live in the Georgian-controlled territory but travel to Gali for seasonal work or trade (mostly internally displaced women), have been left without the source of livelihood. Their needs have not been reflected in any of the state support programmes.
  • Recommendations:
Based on the above, the signatory organizations call on the Georgian authorities to:
  • Activate direct dialogue with the Abkhaz community; make effective use of the resources and expertise of the civil society in the peace process and, to this end, facilitate the establishment of a permanent platform for cooperation with the non-governmental sector and experts.
  • Apply to Liberty Bank to allow IDPs and pensioners living in Gali to receive pensions/allowances through the bank's mobile services at the Rukhi administrative border; in cooperation with international organizations and in compliance with sanitary norms, arrange primary points at the administrative dividing line to allow persons from Abkhazia to buy medicines, products and necessities.
  • Provide additional assistance to the schools of the Gali district, including by providing appropriate technical equipment and encouraging the entry of high-speed internet service providers in the villages located near the dividing line.
  • Start working for the simplification of services for patients arriving from Gali; facilitate the supply of medicines and medical equipment, including portable X-ray and ultrasound machines, as well as surgical instruments, to the Gali and Saberio hospitals.
  • Develop special, needs-based temporary programmes to alleviate the aggravated socio-economic situation of IDPs and Gali population in the context of the pandemic.
  • Consider holding an Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) emergency meeting in Gali to address a range of important issues.
Signatory organizations:

Democracy Research Institute (DRI)
Human Rights Center (HRC)
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Center for Peace and Civil Development(CPCD)


 
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