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Saakashvili promises IDPs they will return to Abkhazia soon

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Friday, November 30

Ruling party leader Mikheil Saakashvili promised IDPs that they would be able to return to the breakaway region of Abkhazia by next winter in a speech at Tbilisi City Hall on November 28.

Saakashvili, who stood down as president on November 25 to clear the way for snap presidential elections on January 5, said his pledge to IDPs “is not a promise made as part of an election campaign.”

He also instructed Tbilisi City Mayor Gigi Ugulava and Minister for Refugees and Accommodation Koba Subeliani to hand over state-owned property which is currently occupied by refugees.

A recent government privatization drive has fuelled fears among refugees that they could be left homeless, as hotels which they have made their homes since fleeing Abkhazia in the 1992-93 conflict are sold off to private companies.

On August 10, nearly 60 refugee families were given five days’ notice to move out of a Telavi hotel, which had been their home since 1992. Although the government offered GEL 10 000 compensation to each family, they complained it would not cover alternative accommodation in Telavi.

Saakashvili also reassured IDPs that Russian threats of investing in the breakaway region would not jeopardize their chances of returning to their original homes.

“I assure you, no matter how much they [the Russians] talk about buying property there, no one is able to buy anything,” he said.

He also announced an increase in monthly benefits to IDPs, but did not go into details.

Ruling party officials said on Monday that Saakashvili’s official presidential campaign would not officially begin until December 3. However, the government has been addressing core voter issues in recent weeks in what appears to be strategic appeal for votes.

A number of social initiatives have already been implemented, including handing out firewood to poor families in the provinces, and the distribution of one-off utilities vouchers across the country.

This week, the government announced a plebiscite on NATO—scheduled for the same time as the January elections—which is likely to reiterate the overwhelming public support for a much-touted policy of the current administration.

Saakashvili’s strong words regarding refugees have certainly resonated with some of the IDP community in Tbilisi.

“This is great news for every internally displaced person, I think,” Izolda, a 54 year old IDP who has been living in a state-owned building since 1992, told the Messenger.

“It means that most IDPs—who have always faced the possibility of homelessness until the undefined date of our return home—now, at least, appear to have a guarantee of a roof over our heads,” she added.