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Forcible Return of IDPs to Villages Regardless of Safety Concerns

Nona Suvaryani, Tbilisi

Internally Displaced People residing in the building of the Rustavi Vocational Institute # 17 has been forced to vacate the building prior to November 10. However, those who fled from the village of Knolevi in the Kareli district are still afraid of returning to their village. They state it is dangerous to go home because de-mining process has not been completed as yet and there is still unexploded ordnance. In addition, the village of Knolevi borders with Znauri district that is controlled by Ossetians.

Despite the clear and apparent danger, IDPs are offered no other option but to return to their village. In some instances there is no choice, as they have not received the little aid from the UNHCR in recent days. As officials from the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation explain this aid is now being sent directly to the villages. The IDPs are sure that in doing so, the authorities are actually expelling them from where they have found shelter in compact settlements. However, the method is mild, as IDPs officials are noted for using more severe forms coercion and intimidation of their eviction.

Ledy Birtvelashvili, an IDP from Knolevi: “We have nothing to eat, not even bread. They sent criminals to bully us - they tore our curtains and state if we do not leave immediately, we will find ourselves in the street. As they state, we have to do what is necessary our hold our positions. And this is not the first time I had to follow orders, as I have served Georgian army for 7 years. I have spent 19 in this war but now not me but those boys should reinforce the positions against those who carried out raids on us. If Georgia has such brave fellows let them have come to our village and stand besides us, and if they would have done that when there was war then we would not be facing such conditions.”

As residents of Knolevi stated the situation had become even tenser since Georgian police units have deployed in their area.

Natia Tsetskhladze, an IDP from Knolevi: “We are more unprotected now because since police was deployed in the region, Ossetians are shooting at us directly.”

Darejan Tsikubadze, a resident of Knolevi who is over 60 years-of-age, has already returned to her native village. She considers it as being an obligation but she categorically refuses to allow her daughter back to the village.

“They are shooting at night. Our side does not respond to the fire but Ossetians are still not stopping in their activities.  I have to be in my village but I will not take my daughter home. Ossetians continue to threaten an attack on the village. Although our police are deployed in the village we know that nobody among them will actually manage to help and that leaves us to deal face-to-face to Ossetians on our own. The Police are only deployed behind us and not between us and the separatists. Demining specialists have not entered our village as yet. IDPs are still unable to take farm equipment to the field for fear of explosive devices, and this situation makes it impossible for carry out fall plowing operations.” 

Darejan Tsikubadze states that the IDPs who had their houses destroyed in the war are being offered a sum of 15,000 USD as financial compensation for them to build new houses. However, many locals have not taken up the offer because the actual cost of construction needs much more money. In this situation people are compelled to shelter their neighbors who have their houses survived.

Since IDPs have not received the food, it has become very difficult for the pregnant Ledy Birtvelishvili to live in the shelter in Rustavi. However, she does not want to return to the village. Ledy is afraid because of the stories she has heard from her relatives and neighbors.

“One week ago, the other side started shooting at midnight and stopped only at 4:00 AM. Our village is located on the border. I can tell the color of the eyes of Russians who are standing at the checkpoint on the other side. Let them not give food for our men, but let them give aid to the women and children. As soon as we are sure there is peace in our village, we will go there. What the hell do we need in Rustavi? There is no single tree here while our people have left huge gardens with plenty of fruit trees in them. We spent 19 years in war but never abandoned anything. Now we were kicked out from there. They were burning our houses and people were harassed. When I called at the police station in Kareli they replied: “You should take care of yourselves now.”

Vladimer Jugheli, the head of the regional police department, has information about the situation in the village.

“There is a police station working in Knolevi. Special unit and observers are there too. There is no similar danger observed there. Nobody has fired at our police for almost one month and half. As for demining process it finished 10-12 days ago. People who are in the village have not faced similar problem. If some incidents happen there without reporting to me, I do not know. Any person can return home. Those who does not want because of danger, they should speak up to the end about the real threat.”

According to Ledy Birtvelishvili Merab Gelashvili, coordinator of the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation, creates more problems for IDPs and compel them to leave the building.

Merab Gelashvili, who we got in touch with yesterday, stated that return process of the IDPs might be delayed for sometime because it really was danger. He was sure that the issue would be solved in favor of the IDPs. However, he reported us about completely different decision. IDPs are to return to Knolevi because life there is safe.

“Generally it was ordered to send all IDPs from the villages on the list to their houses. They should take part in the reconstruction of their own houses. The life in Knolevi is dangerous but similar difficulties are in every village. In this case everybody can complain about it and will not return home.”

As Merab Gelashvili stated nobody will expel IDPs from the building of Rustavi Vocational Institute # 17 however they will not receive food from the UNHCR. IDPs have to choose: either to return to mined and dangerous village or to starve in safe Rustavi.

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