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Five years since the war- challenges remain

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, August 8
The Tserovani settlement did not exist 5 years ago prior to the Georgian-Russian conflict in the Tskhinvali region in Shida Kartli.

It was among the 38 settlements built from September to November that year, currently inhabited by internally displaced persons (IDPs) mainly from Gori and Akhalgori after the Georgian-Russian War of August 8, 2008.

Currently there are 20, 378 IDPs in Georgia as a result of the August War, but this figure changes according to the birth and death data; the number of IDPs is increasing from year to year due to the state's policy of perpetuating IDP status by registering newborns of IDPs as IDPs.

Around 30 kilometers from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, a couple thousand red-roofed houses easily grab one’s attention. The cottage-sized houses were built for the IDPs and thus a new settlement was born.

Today Tserovani is believed to be the most exemplary IDP settlement with a school and a kindergarten, emergency center, super markets and a church.

The Maghaldadze family, like the majority of IDPs in Tserovani, lives on a 28 GEL allowance for IDPs (per capita) and a pension.

This allowance is hardly enough for IDPs to cover even communal expenses. IDPs mainly use natural gas– both for cooking and heating. Water is another problem, as the families have to use drinking water for irrigation.

IDPs living in the settlements like Tserovani often have either small or no land to cultivate. Often, the waste fields around IDPs do not belong to them. Moreover, much of the land around the settlements is not fertile or usable.

The Maghaldadze family comes from the village of Kheoba in the Tskhinvali region, which was bombarded in August 2008. The family now lives in a 64 sq. m cottage surrounded by a 400 sq. m garden. Those who received the cottages at the edges of the rows, were lucky as they are close to the pastures and thus can afford the cattle to breed, while those, who live in the middle rows, can grow greens, peach or potato. But as the locals say, the soil in Tserovani is not that fruitful especially as the settlement lacks irrigation.

Recollecting the day when they were forced to leave their home in Tskhinvali, both – old and young members of the seven-member Maghaldadze family wish they could return.

In Tskhinvali they had a large house with a garden where they cultivated fruits and vegetables, and kept cattle and poultry, in Tserovani, they lack such benefits.

Just like others, the Maghaldadze family escaped from the bombs taking with them a single jacket hoping they would soon be back.

The European Union (EU) has been supporting people affected by conflicts through various programs aimed at improving their living conditions in the temporary settlements and creating conditions similar to their original homes.

If during the first years of the conflict the EU supported IDPs with food and shelter, nowadays, the EU is oriented on long-term socio-economic integration and livelihood programs with development prospects aimed at raising “the socio-economic standards of IDPs to those of the average Georgian citizen and fully facilitate their integration into their respective local socio-economic fabric.”

In total, out of the four IDP programs, 10 million, 51.5 million, 43.5 million and 19 million euros has been allocated by the EU, primarily for building cottage house settlements, rehabilitating IDP collective centers, constructing new apartment blocks and other alternative durable housing solutions.

The current 4-year IDP support program to Georgia launched in 2012 aims at creating opportunities for IDPs and host communities to reach self-sufficiency through vocational training and small grants; support for investment; employment generation and the strengthening of community organizations.

Georgian human rights protector Lasha Chkhartishvili has worked on IDP-related issues for years.

According to Chkhartishvili, it is cynical that IDPs have 28 GEL allowances, when the majority is unemployed, and the families depend on support from one another and in some cases even have to cover the rent on their own.

IDPs' psychological dependence on the government hampers a more entrepreneurial attitude and development. State resources are limited. Eventually, it is important for IDPs to have the opportunity to take care of themselves.

The former government was oriented on providing the IDPs with immediate housing after the August war while the new government is now oriented on providing jobs.

Deputy Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, Mamuka Tsotniashvili, disapproves of the “ghetto-styled” compact settlements.

Tsotniashvili explained the Ministry now gives IDPs an opportunity to stay wherever they currently live or move elsewhere. This way or another, together with its foreign partners the Georgian government aims at creating jobs in the vicinity of IDP settlements. It is also plans to increase the state allowance for covering communal expenses.

Return of IDPs to Tskhinvali remains on the state agenda. Tsotniashvili thinks through taking wise political steps and public diplomacy, it is possible to make this “dream” come true.