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Refugees Magazine Issue 109 (1997 In Review) - CIS

Refugees Magazine, 1 September 1997

It is one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, as many as nine million people have been on the move at any one time within the successor nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS], trekking in as many directions as there are points on the compass; civilians fleeing conflict, economic and ecological migrants and people returning to their homes of ethnic origin, some after 50 years in exile.

The overall numbers of displaced people changed only slightly during 1997. Several CIS states began to grapple with the problem of the displaced populations, but elsewhere across a vast landscape stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, several longtime crises continued to simmer.

The troubles in Chechnya subsided following a 1996 ceasefire and UNHCR closed its operation in the neighbouring autonomous republic of Daghestan after assisting the bulk of the displaced population there to go home to Chechnya. About half of the estimated 500,000 Tatars deported by Stalin in 1944 had returned to their native Crimea in Ukraine by 1997 and the government agreed to speed up the Tatars reintegration by easing its strict citizenship law. In Central Asia, the last of an estimated 60,000 people who fled the 1992-93 civil war in Tajikistan, were returning home from northern Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan joined the Russian Federation,Tajikistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan in ratifying the 1951 Convention on Refugees and Turkmenistan was completing the process.

But some regional challenges remain enormous. An estimated 400,000 people were trapped in a succession of simmering inter-related conflicts in the Trans-Caucasus republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and nearby Russian autonomous republics. Peace in Chechnya was fragile at best and Tajikistan desperately needed international aid to patch the country together again after its protracted civil conflict.

There were other headaches. Many ethnic returnees found it difficult to integrate socially and economically; refugees faced acute legal and economic problems; and the relentless flow of illegal migrants strained both the resources and relations of regional countries.

John Horekens, UNHCR's Director for Europe, said that the CIS countries had made progress last year and there were even a few positive signs in efforts to successfully resolve the seemingly intractable problems in Georgia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. He added, however, these states would all need continued strong backing from the international community for the forseeable future.

Source: Refugees Magazine issue 109 (1997)

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UNHCR country pages

Displacement in Georgia

Tens of thousands of civilians are living in precarious conditions, having been driven from their homes by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On the morning of August 12, the first UNHCR-chartered plane carrying emergency aid arrived in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first UN assistance to arrive in the country since fighting broke out the previous week. The airlift brought in 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items were then loaded onto trucks at the Tbilisi airport for transport and distribution.

A second UNHCR flight landed in Tbilisi on August 14, with a third one expected to arrive the following day. In addition, two UNHCR aid flights are scheduled to leave for Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation the following week with mattresses, water tanks and other supplies for displaced South Ossetians.

Working with local partners, UNHCR is now providing assistance to the most vulnerable and needy. These include many young children and family members separated from one another. The situation is evolving rapidly and the refugee agency is monitoring the needs of the newly displaced population, which numbered some 115,000 on August 14.

Posted on 15 August 2008

Displacement in Georgia

Vincent Cochetel interviewPlay video

Vincent Cochetel interview

On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day 2010, a senior UNHCR staff member reflects on his experience being kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998.
UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and RussiaPlay video

UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and Russia

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres spent four days in Georgia and the Russian Federation to assess UNHCR's humanitarian operations and to speak with those affected by the recent fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.