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UNHCR hopes to improve conditions for returnees to Abkhazia in 2009

News Stories, 22 October 2008

© UNHCR/P.Taggart
Repairs Needed: UNHCR hopes to help renovate the dilapidated homes of returnees in Abkhazia.

GALI, Georgia, October 12 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency plans next year to step up its support for tens of thousands of returnees in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia as part of a new approach to needs assessment and fund-raising.

UNHCR currently provides very basic shelter assistance and a limited income generation programme to an estimated 45,000 returnees, but plans in 2009 to also fund the construction and rehabilitation of houses for use by the returnees in areas close to Abkhazia's border with Georgia proper. The agency also plans to build community centres for use by all ethnic groups groups.

The extra funding for this assistance is being sough as a result of the pilot Global Needs Assessment (GNA), under which the amount of money sought from donors will reflect real needs rather than what UNHCR thinks donors can provide. The programme was launched this year in eight countries, including Georgia, and will be rolled out worldwide for the 2010-2011 planning cycle. So far, donor response has been promising.

"Under the current aid programme, we are only able to provide emergency shelter," explained Srecko Neuman, head of UNHCR's field office in Gali. "This means one dry warm room per family not enough to resume a normal life." Neuman said he hoped that UNHCR's shelter project budget of US$350,000 for Abkhazia would rise substantially as a result of the GNA, making a big difference in the life of returnees.

This would be welcome news to people like Ruslan and his wife Oxana, who fled the village of Saberio during the Georgia-Abkhaz conflict of 1992-1993 and only returned three years ago. Some 80,000 ethnic Georgians fled into Georgia proper at the time, but an estimated 45,000 have returned to eastern Abkhazia, including 10,000 to Gali town.

Ruslan and Oxana live in poverty and squalor. Their house is in a state, though Ruslan has carried out basic repairs with tools and construction materials provided by UNHCR. Because of an unresolved problem with identity papers, they are unable to access social and health services. They are the kind of people UNHCR hopes to help.

But UNHCR's programmes are aimed not only at helping the most vulnerable returnees, but also at easing their reintegration and building bridges and confidence between the ethnic Georgians and their Abkhaz neighbours.

Take the school in the village of Tageloni, which was reconstructed four years ago by UNHCR and caters to all villagers. "We have 120 [primary and secondary] pupils in 12 classes and a community centre that is very popular among Georgians and Abkhaz. We have chess tournaments, ping pong matches and courses [on how to run small businesses] for the population," said the headmaster, Temur Djologua, an ethnic Georgian.

The UN refugee agency plans to use any increases in its budget through the GNA in 2009 to build more multi-purpose centres that will serve the community and contribute to the healing process and reconciliation. The community centres will also be used for a number of activities aimed at helping the reintegration of the returnees, such as business and legal counselling.

A number of aid agencies, such as the Danish Refugee Council, run income generation projects with UNHCR help. Returnees with plans to open a small enterprise will be able to apply at the nearest community centre for a grant. The centres will also officer basic gynaecological health advice to women from all communities.

In Tageloni, the school not only provides a vital education to all the village children, it also acts as a meeting point for adults it's like a big communal sitting room. The men pop in during the evening or at weekends to play table football, table tennis or chess. The women gather in the cafeteria for a nice cup of tea and a chat.

"This brings our two ethnic groups closer to each other and changes the attitude of both sides," said Headmaster Djologua. "We feel welcome among our neighbours and we are happy to have returned."

By Melita H. Sunjic in Gali, Georgia




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Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

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

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