Post-Conflict Misery: 25 Years of Internal Displacement in Georgia
The world is constantly facing various ethnic, religious, military conflicts; this increases the number of victims every day. According to the 2016 Global Peace Index, there are only 10 countries in the world that are free from conflict. As a result of global violence, the number of persons displaced from their homes has dramatically increased over the last decade, reaching a record high of 65.3 million people in 2015.
Due to obvious reasons, internal displacement has become a major challenge for many countries nowadays. Georgia is one of these countries, having gone through civil war and ethnic conflicts in the early 1990’s as well as a war with Russia in 2008. Consequently, the country has experienced a massive exodus of Georgians from the conflict areas to escape ethnic cleansing and find a safer homes. After the two decades of chaos and unrest, Georgia, a small country of 3.7 million, has 263,598 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The IDP settlement in Shavshvebi, near Gori, Georgia, 2014.
Today, every 14th person in Georgia is an IDP. This means that in most cases, every 14th person has no access to basic needs, proper housing conditions or social, economic and cultural opportunities. IDPs face a constant dilemma: should they integrate into their new places of habitual residence, or hope they return back home? This is a struggle of resistance over acceptance, hope over despair, and return over remain.
Since 2010, I have been working in different sectors on issues related to conflicts and their aftermath. My focus has always been the plight of IDPs, peace and confidence building, and reconciliation in deeply divided, post-conflict societies. I have been advocating for all possible durable solutions to regulate Georgia's conflicts and its repercussions. I first started by working on a local, non-governmental organization (NGO) level, then on a state level and now at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I’ve had the privilege of working on a joint project between the UN High Commissioner For Refugees and Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia which led to a completely new policy ensuring IDP access to livelihoods.
“Bring Me Back Home” campaign, Batumi, Georgia.
As one of the most vulnerable groups of people, IDPs must be looked after by governments and host communities. Productive livelihoods are essential for IDPs to overcome poverty and to support integration into host communities for the sake of achieving stability and sustainability. This key factor truly benefits post-conflict societies.
We must do our best to ensure their vital needs are met with proper accommodation, monthly allowances, free primary and secondary education and health services. This allows them to normalise their living conditions without having implications on their right to return or restitution of their property. These matters are related to the fundamental human rights cemented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as other covenants and acts.
We millennials must advocate for IDP rights locally and internationally in order to build stable peace and create the foundation for a safe, unconditional, dignified and voluntary process of repatriation for IDPs. Thus, as leaders of today and tomorrow, we should take action and participate in improving the social and economic conditions of IDPs so that they are able to fully realise their potential before and after returning home. As a young leader in my community, I will continue to strive for the benefit of the IDPs and broader society.
It is of the utmost importance that we raise our voices about the issue of internal displacement and help those in need to thrive and create better lives for generations to come.
Tamar Lobjanidze is a Protection Field Officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross. She has planned and implemented projects and activities aimed at raising awareness, building confidence, and mobilising local, national and international communities around the issues of IDPs rights, families of missing persons, and conflicts.