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UN Expert on IDPs criticizes eviction procedures in Tbilisi

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, September 17
The eviction of the IDPs in Tbilisi was not carried out in the way “it should have been done”, the Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin said on Thursday. He was speaking at a special press conference at the end of his four-day visit to Georgia. He held meetings with the representatives of the Georgian government in Tbilisi and visited the Sukhumi and Gali region as well as part of the visit.

Kaelin briefly outlined the current situation in the country in terms of the IDPs issue, saying that it is “absolutely crucial” to find a solution to the problems of the people who have been displaced. “I was happy to see that the Government already some years ago adopted a strategy built on two pillars, namely - improving the lives of the people in displacement and working towards conditions that would allow for return,” Kaelin stated “I am happy to see that the government has worked out an action plan and that it has made good progress in the implementation of the plan,” he noted.

However, Kaelin stated he has “some concerns”. In particular, he touched upon the issue of recent evictions of the IDPs from their temporary accommodation. “One concern is linked to the evictions that took place in the capital city. While it is clear that the private owners are entitled to get their property, which means that the IDPs will have to move to other places, I felt that the implementation of these evictions were not done in the way they should have been,” the UN expert said “The problem is that the people were moved out and they were not given real alternatives so their situation now is worse than it was before. I am very happy to see that the discussions are underway with the government to improve the eviction procedures,” Kaelin added.

Kaelin expressed his concern about the fact that “often people get very good housing, but their livelihoods are not improved.” “I very strongly feel that improvement of housing conditions and improvement of livelihood should go hand in hand,” he stated.

The UN expert on IDPs summed up his visit in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia. According to Kaelin, he was supposed to meet the de facto Prime Minister and the de facto Foreign Minister in Sukhumi. “However the meetings were cancelled for the unknown reasons,” he noted, adding that in Sukhumi and Gali he met the civil society and the NGOs representatives, as well as the population of the Upper Gali villages.

Kaelin named two major challenges that he observed in the Gali district. “One is the security situation there: I am concerned about the fact that the people there are exposed to criminal acts. The second is how they can maintain their culture and traditions,” he said.

The prospect of returning the people from Abkhazia to their homes are still “very low”, according to the Representative of the UN Secretary General. “The situation of protracted displacement should not continue. The right of the return has to be recognized and the conditions for return have to be created. All internally displaced persons have the right to voluntarily return to their homes and to have their property returned to them or to receive compensation where restitution is not possible,” he stated.

Earlier on Thursday, Walter Kaelin presented a newly revised Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework for Durable Solutions for IDPs. The Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, Koba Subeliani, United Nations Residence Coordinator Jamie Mcgoldrick and the UNHCR representative Peter Nicolaus, as well as the representatives of NGOs attended the presentation. In his speech, Kaelin stressed that the search for durable solutions for IDPs is a “complex, gradual and often long-term process.” The document suggests that “primary responsibility for IDP protection rests with the national authorities. International agencies and NGOs have a complimentary role and, in particular, come in where the state is unwilling or unable to address all needs.”

UNHCR representative Peter Nicolaus focused on the issue of unemployment at the meeting in Courtyard Marriott Hotel. The Government has made “huge efforts” to provide shelter to the IDPs, he said. However, he added that the IDPs need to have access to the labour market, to proper medical support and to education. “We will not succeed if we focus on shelter only. There are the people who have been moved from Tbilisi to the regions – this is the second displacement,” Nicolaus said “We have to be more flexible and have to revise urgently the action plan on IDPs,” he added.

The property rights are “untouchable”, the Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, Koba Subeliani said at the meeting with UN representatives. He was responding to claims about the procedures of recent evictions in Tbilisi. “Anyone, IDP or not IDP, who forcefully seizes another’s property is violating the law,” he said “We are facing this problem quite often and it is quite painful. Anyway we are doing our best to provide shelter to the people who were forced to leave their living spaces,” he added. The Minister thanked the international agencies for their help towards the IDPs in Georgia. “There is a lot remaining to be done, there are many problems but the important thing is that we are together and on our way to solving these problems,” Subeliani stated.