The signatory organizations support the protest of the IDPs living in the building of the sanatorium “Kartli” and mourn the grave tragedy that occurred on January 16 and call on the Georgian authorities to quickly act on ensuring the safe and dignified accommodation for the IDPs.
We believe that the state has neglected its obligation to protect the life and health of IDPs living in the dangerous environment, and the tragedy of January 16 is the result of a policy of inaction and mistrust.
The protest of the IDPs living in the “Kartli” building moved up in the media and political agenda especially after January 16, when an internally displaced person aged 52, Zurab Chichoshvili on the locality committed a suicide as an act of protest.
For several years now, the IDPs living in the “Kartli” sanatorium building have been protesting their grave living conditions. The building currently houses 140-150 families. They settled here 29 years ago after the war in Abkhazia. According to the IDPs, the building is unsafe, damaged and it is slowly collapsing. The residents say the building is already split in two and its foundation is also unstable, as there are signs of water accumulation. A last examination conducted in 2015 shows that the building is unsuitable for living. However, even after 6 years, the state has not provided the IDPs with the accommodation.
According to the IDPs they were periodically organizing the rallies, however with no success. The last rally they hold was in December 2021 and it resumed on January 10, 2022, when a part of the wall in the building’s corridors collapsed again. Due to the security concerns and worries, some of the IDPs living in the building, especially children and the elderly, have spent most of their daytime in the hall next to the building. Some of them even stay in this space during the night, which is heated by only one wood stove.
In recent weeks, IDPs have been negotiating with the relevant state agencies for their resettlement, however the offers presented have not been acceptable to them. During the negotiations, the government made them to offers: 1. The IDPs search for an apartment in Tbilisi and the state buys the place; 2. The IDPs receive a money for a rent and living on a rent until the state completes the construction of the apartments purchased for them. The IDPs explain to us that the first offer was not acceptable to them as the amount offered by the state ($ 550 per square meter) was not enough for buying an apartment that is in a livable condition. Towards the second offer they did not have much trust, as, according to them, the state did not provide them with legal guarantees that the rent for housing would be for a sufficient period of time. Moreover, finding an apartment for 300 GEL a month (taking into account the economic inflation) would be difficult for them. More so, as the relevant state agencies have not indicated to the IDPs that the construction of the new housing for them will be completed in the near future. In these circumstances, the IDPs asked the government to immediately purchase apartments for them and to transfer the ownership rights.
However, the government did not fulfill this request back then. Only yesterday, when the grave tragedy happened at the residence, the Ministry of IDPs from the occupied territories, labor, health and social affairs of Georgia announced that it would unconditionally provide new housing for IDPs living in the former sanatorium “Kartli” by 2022.
Regarding the death of Mr. Zurab Chichoshvili, the Ministry of IDPs from the occupied territories, labor, health and social affairs of Georgia stated that according to preliminary information, it was an accident and should not be related to the problem of IDPs before the investigation is over. Contrary to the Minister’s statement, the neighbors of Mr. Zurab explained to us that the deceased was actively involved in residents’ protest and planning, and prior to the tragedy on a numerous occasions he had stated that only suicide seemed to be a tool for attracting the attention of the authorities.
It is clear that the offers made by the state during the negotiations were not adequate and it left the already socially vulnerable group in social uncertainty without clear and solid guarantees related to housing as a basic condition of a social protection. Negotiations conducted by the state did not bring much of a hope for the IDPs, as the issue was not discussed at a high level and did not contain sufficient guarantees amid years of social despair. The death of Mr. Zurab Chichoshvili seems to be the most severe expression of the social frustration and crisis, and it should become a precondition for maximizing the state and society’s resources towards resolving the needs of the IDPs.
Almost 30 years have passed since the armed conflict in Abkhazia, however the state has not ensured the housing not even of the half of the IDPs. According to the last data from 2020, 288 146 IDP and 91 023 internally displayed families are registered in Georgia. By 2020, the state has resettled 42,370 families, while 40,131 families have duly filled out an application for housing and are awaiting resettlement.
Moreover, the vast majority of IDPs still live in inhumane conditions, in dormitories, and in difficult social conditions. According to the Public Defender’s 2020 report, despite the intensification of the process of resettlement of families from demolished facilities in recent years, the number of facilities with increased risk to life and health is still high. Of the 90 facilities assessed by the experts, 71 contained an increased risk to life and health. The remaining 19 are privately owned by the IDPs and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the agency.  In addition, the state does not proactively inspect the sustainability of the buildings, and expert inspections are conducted only on the appeals made by the IDP.
IDPs make up 7% of our population, although their interests, concerns, and needs are not adequately represented by the politicians. In 2018, the government, under the concept of “small government”, decided to abolish the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia .
Instead of an independent ministry, an LEPL Agency was established under the Ministry of Health – the IDPs, Eco-Migrants and Livelihood Agency. With this decision, the government once again stressed that the issue of IDPs does not have a high political priority and the policy aimed at them is limited to providing certain social services and needs, which is also flawed and incomplete.
It is noteworthy that the only ministry that was abolished within the framework of the so-called “small government” concept was the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons, which indicates that the multi-layered problems of IDPs are less of a priority for the government.
The government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, which has low public confidence, is unable to represent the interests of IDPs. This problem once again became evident when David Patsatsia was appointed as the representative of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia and was involved in the communication processes with the residents of the sanatorium.
Unfortunately, IDPs are not seen by the state not as citizens with a political agency, but as beneficiaries whose issues can be managed by minor technocratic involvement.
It is clear that such policies towards IDPs affect the process of peaceful transformation of the conflict, which fails to show due treatment and high interest in the victims of the conflict and misses the special potential that IDPs may have in the process of building trust and reconciliation.
We once again want to stress the responsibility of the state to ensure the residents of the sanatorium residents with the safe and decent living conditions as soon as possible, and call on the government and the relevant agencies to:
- Immediately ensure an immediate resettlement of the IDPs living in the sanatorium to a safe and an adequate housing;
- Unconditionally prioritize the interests of the people living in this building and to provide them with decent housing as soon as possible;
- Proactively, as a result of close cooperation between the central and municipal authorities, conduct a study of the situation and the needs of the IDPs living in various facilities facing security risks and their timely resettlement through the creation of appropriate alternatives.
- Discuss better institutional ways and mechanisms for representing IDPs’ needs, interests and concerns.
- Social Justice Center
- Democratic Research Institute (DRI)
- Human Rights Center (HRC)
- Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA)
- Open Society Foundation
- Rights Georgia
- Women’s Fund “Sokhumi”
- International Partnership for Human Rights
- Institute for the Study of Nationalism and Conflict (ISNC)