There are over 260,000 IDPs in Georgia. It’s a huge figure for such a small country: 6% of the overall population have had to escape war and start their life from zero.
People in Georgia remember relatively well how it all happened – IDPs were rehoused in new apartments amidst panic and chaos. They ‘densely’ settled in hotels, dormitories, schools and kindergartens.
A compact life
A hotel suite or dormitory room was supposed to be a temporary shelter, but the majority of IDPs spent decades in such dwellings. For many of them, this temporary shelter has become their permanent home.
“When we got here, we had nothing. Nothing at all! Once my husband found a fork in the waste bin and brought it home, says Mzia Kardava.
Mzia’s home is a room in one of the numerous dormitories in a small village in Western Georgia. The village is called Potskhoetseri, but sometimes it is referred to as the ‘IDP town’. It seems to visitors that this place is populated only by IDPs. However, they actually make up just one-third of the village’s population. They seem to stand out from the rest of the poulation.
There is a school, a kindergarten and an outpatient clinic here. The most entrepreneurial and venturous among the locals open some tiny stores, where one can ‘take it home now and pay later.’ This is called ‘nisia’ in Georgia. There is no escaping ‘nisia’ in Potskhoetseri.
“Every month we take everything home as if it were free of charge-the salesman just writes down our purchases in a special notebook, indicating how much this or that product costs. We pay it off as soon as we get our benefits.
Benefits for IDPs in Georgia totals 45 GEL ($20 US). The prices in Potskhoetseri are the same as in Tbilisi, so people cannot afford to buy much.
‘IDP town’ being deserted
Potskhoetseri was built specifically for the personnel of the Enguri Hydropower Plant (HPP) which is operated on both the Georgian and Abkhaz sides.
The HPP is the major provider of jobs in the village. However, few of the dormitory dwellers have permanent jobs. Families with at least one employed member are regarded as the lucky ones.
Along with the IDP benefits, many IDPs in Potskhoetseri get additional state allowances for being below the poverty line. This allowance is 60 GEL (approximately $30 US). Those ‘best-off’ also receive pensions amounting to 160 GEL.
These miniscule state social benefits are the only source of income for the overwhelming majority of dormitory inhabitants.
It is nearly impossible to find a job in Potskhoetseri, since even seasonal jobs are a rarity here. For this reason, many people have left the village.
We’re not talking about ‘many’ people, but the majority of them. 250 families initially settled in Potskhoetseri, whereas now there are less than 80 left. People leave this area, abandon the dwellings which have become their own.
That’s how it was with many people in Georgia: the IDPs were confined to temporary dwellings for a decade before the state remembered them and finally provided them with residential areas. A few IDPs managed to privatize a tiny room in a former kindergarten or an outpatient department. The majority of IDPs received another proposal from the government, which in bureaucratic language sounded like ‘to be provided with an alternative place of residence.’ When translated into plain language, it means ‘to resettle in another place. The IDPs, in most cases, were resettled from a city to a province, and it completely ruined their chances of finding a job.
This has ended up being one of the major testimonies of IDPs.
Out of sight
“In fact, they just want to push us out of their sight, says Galina Sulava. There was she made home in the town of Gagra, then a dormitory in Potskhoesteri. Now, during the past 7 years she has been renting a flat in Tbilisi.
“They simply move us as far as possible so that we won’t be an eyesore. Nobody cares if we die of hunger or not. An IDP is just thrown into an 8 sq.m. room, and nobody is interested how he/she will feed his/her children in that room?
There is a special ministry in Georgia that is supposed to deal with IDPs’ problems. When the reporters come to the ‘compact settlements’, the IDPs often start arguing about who was the worst IDP minister. Usually it’s not that easy to reach a consensus on that issue.
When the conversation turns to social benefits or the settlements, the Georgian media mentions the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia and how the amount of their benefits has increased several times in recent years. But it’s still an insignificant sum. It’s almost the same situation within the settlements: IDPs have been provided with housing, but not everyone will be able to live in them.
“They brought some presents to the village on the Mother’s Day. How many presents do you think there were? Three! As if there were only three mothers living here, said a local resident, who introduced herself as Nadya.
What’s important is not that they decided to save money on expenses when giving us the presents – that would not be so hurtful. Rather, it is that the officials once again could not find the time to give us even the smallest inkling of attention.
The lack of attention to Potskhoetseri IDPs is expounded by the fact that public transport runs from the village to the neighboring Jvari town just three times a week. The nearest drug store is located in Jvari, which means that it could be necessary to go there at any moment.
The locals say they have repeatedly explained the situation to regional authorities, but they just brush them off, saying, “You don’t have that many residents to warrant sending buses to your village every day.”
The ‘IDP town’ is located in the Samegrelo region, adjacent to Abkhazia. Because of its proximity, the first wave of IDPs fled here during the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and in the aftermath.
Approximately 30% of all IDPs are now concentrated in this region.