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Interview with Mr. Daniel Endres, Director of the UNHCR Bureau for Europe during his visit to Georgia

Thursday, February 2
UNHCR Tbilisi, January 2012

Question: What is the reason of your visit to Georgia?

Answer: This is my very first visit to Georgia as the Director of the UNHCR Bureau for Europe. Georgia is one of the most important operations of the Bureau and since we had some budgetary changes last year, it was important for me to see how we can maintain the momentum and what opportunities there are to keep supporting this operation, what the key-challenges are and how we can address the needs of the people who require our support.

Q: You had many meetings with the representatives of the Government of Georgia. Can you please tell what issues were discussed?

A: We had extensive discussions with the Government and we focused very much on the key-challenge which is still the large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The Government speaks of about 270,000 IDPs living in Georgia. That is a large caseload and we need to support the efforts of the Government in helping these people.

We also discussed the successful integration of refugees of the Chechen ethnicity from the Russian Federation in Pankisi Valley, which in many ways can be seen as an exemplary model. Georgia has offered them citizenship, many have undergone the naturalization process and more will do it. There is also an innovative way of cooperating with UNDP on joint transition and integration efforts related to refugees. That was seen as a success and we actually look at how we can replicate this model in other countries.

With the representatives of the Government of Georgia we also discussed the outstanding activities on statelessness. Georgia has acceded to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and it is in a process of establishing a law that will create a process to establish statelessness.

Another very important part of our work in Georgia is the further development of the asylum system. The importance of this activity is likely to increase in the future, since Georgia lies in a geopolitically fragile area.

Q: Why was it so important for Georgia to accede to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons?

A: The accession to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons is important in many ways. The break-up of the former Soviet Union has led to an exceptionally large number of people who had either uncertain status or had lost their nationality. This impacted not only people themselves but also their children whose births could often not be registered and who then did no longer have access to key services in any of the states they used to live in.

It is very important that people who have no nationality have the possibility to acquire one. Moreover, the rights of stateless persons must be protected and this is why the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in this region is particularly important. It was very good to see that Georgia took a leadership role in the region and signed the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. We are looking forward to the process of Georgia establishing the law that will enable people to have a procedure to obtain nationality and as a next step for Georgia signing the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in order to prevent the further occurrence of statelessness.

Q: Economic crisis and the global UN budget cut: how does it influence UNHCR globally and in Georgia?

A: 2011 was an extraordinary year for UNHCR. Not only did the organization have to deal with very large ongoing situations such as Iraq and Afghanistan, we were confronted with several major new crisis, starting with the Cote d’Ivoire, then North Africa and the Middle East. From Libya alone more than 1.5 million people fled, many of whom had to be supported by UNHCR. Finally the apocalyptic situation in Somalia triggered large displacement. At some stage more than 2,000 refugees were arriving at the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya every day.

All these crises required additional resources at a time of a global economic crisis. As an organization we were compelled to reduce some of the existing IDP operations and this also affected the initial budget for UNHCR’s operations in Georgia for 2012. At this stage we aim at keeping the present level of our activities Georgia and will continue to work closely with our key donors.

Q: How would you evaluate the work of the Government of Georgia in relation to refugees and IDPs?

A: We are witnessing an exceptional engagement by the Government of Georgia with regard to trying to find at least temporary solutions for the IDP population. Over the last three years the Government started a very large shelter and housing programmes, which enabled more than 28,000 thousand families to obtain an adequate housing. This is a remarkable achievement. It is now important that these efforts will continue.

Liene Veide
UNHCR Georgia1