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Who Will Take Care of IDPs?

29.03.2004

Who Will Take Care of IDPs?

IDPs, who call themselves the hostages of the concentration camp…
IDPs, who don’t get needed medical and food assistance…
IDPs, who receive only, 11-14 GEL each month…
IDPs, who are obliged to sell their own identification cards…
IDPs, whose rights are violated by the Abkhazian government (in exile)…
IDPs, humiliated by the local Georgian population…

  
The Internally Displaced Persons problem is a difficult issue in Georgia. For the last decade, politicians have put IDPs’ socio-economic conditions on their agenda only during the pre-election campaign. But IDPs almost always lack adequate electricity, heating, warm clothes etc. Most IDPs in Tbilisi live in the Hotel Iveria or the Hotel Achara. Some also live in various institutions, schools, or hospitals. I discovered their deplorable living conditions when I visited the Hotel Iveria.

Most of the IDPs living in the Iveria have been there since the fall of Sukhumi and Gagra. Many refused to be interviewd because they have completely lost hope. They told me that many journalists (Georgian as well as foreign) have asked them questions, but nothing has changed.
  
Some IDP families did speak freely with me. The IDPs could not conceal their frustration that the Abkhazian government had violated their rights and forced them to move. Many can name specific people they hold responsible for their problems, but because these people are wealthy and influential, the IDPs are afraid to come forward. Many feel that the income sources of members of the Abkhazian government should be investigated. Some are also angry that the representatives of their own government have apparently never taken an interest in the fates of the IDPs.

Some IDPs compare their lives with those of concentration camp victims. Large families live in one or two small rooms, for which they have paid approximately 600 USD. Many entire families are compelled to live in just one of the rooms and rent the other. These rooms are rented by other IDPs, usually for a very low charge. 

IDPs get 11-14 GEL monthly in financial aid from the Georgian government. In addition, they are sometimes given humanitarian “aid”. Unfortunately, this aid is often worthless. One woman received humanitarian aid in the form of sugar and vegetables, but the product was rotten and inedible. Since that time her family has simply refused this aid. 

Another woman lives in the Iveria, but works for the Abkhazian government. She has not received her salary for the entire year of 1998, or for July-October of 2003. She lives alone in two small rooms. When she is paid, she receives 124 GEL per month, the highest income by far in her office. Her colleagues earn between 25 and 37 GEL per month, not even enough to meet basic needs. Their children are constantly hungry.

I also spoke with a woman who has been suffering from a blood disorder for 9 years, and needs constant medical care. She told me that in spite of her illness, she works in a café to support her family, because the financial assistance available from the government is not even enough for them to buy bread. Her 21-year-old daughter has had heart problems since the Abkhazian war. The young woman has a university diploma, but like many of her contemporaries, is unemployed.

The offices of the Abkhazian regional board in Tbilisi have some funds to distribute to refugee families. IDPs can apply for these funds, but they must first stand in a long queue to put their name on a list of potential aid recipients. Many of them wait in vain for money. The method of distribution of these funds is not transparent.

In order to find out more about this problem, I visited the Ministry for Refugees and Accommodation. I learned IDPs often receive no medical care. They get medical cards valid for 5 years, but unfortunately, these cards are practically useless. The cards can only be used in certain specific hospitals (e.g. in The Republic Hospital), and IDPs possessing the cards are usually refused medical attention. To get these, IDPs must be disabled, or old enough to receive a pension. According to the Social Issues Department of the Ministry, IDPs no longer receive medical cards at all because necessary funds have not been allocated by the government.

IDPs can submit applications, along with doctors’ references, to receive one-time assistance of 50-100 GEL. The distribution of this money appears to be arbitrary. And because of inadequate funding, even this process has been stopped indefinitely. During my visit to the Ministry, at least 200 applications were received for financial assistance. Obviously, most IDPs will not receive this money.

IDPs often suffer humiliation because of the promise of financial aid. They suffer insults every day, from people who believe that IDPs receive substantial sums of money and special treatment from the government, while other Georgians receive nothing. One young woman uses a special IDP card to ride public transportation for free, but suffers daily insults from the drivers.  Officially, these cards are distributed by the registration department of the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation. But lacking adequate food and other basic needs, IDPs often sell their own cards. The Ministry itself admits that non-IDPs buy and use these cards. 

In spite of all these problems, many IDPs still hope that their situation will receive more attention from the government and from society in general, and that in the future their lives will be greatly improved.

Maia Todua

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