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Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

Dali Shonia, left, and Tariel Kolbaia were among the half-dozen protesters asking for new houses. Kolbaia threatened to light himself on fire if the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons did not address the protesters’ demands. Stephanie Joyce/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Stephanie Joyce/NPR Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

The local press had stopped by, as had politicians from both major parties. But the protest’s target audience the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees had yet to make an appearance, and the protesters were growing impatient. One of them declared that if the government continued to ignore them, he would set himself on fire in front of the ministry.

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

Protesters, including Nani Shonia (left, no relation to Dali) sewed their lips together to get the attention of the Georgian ministry. Stephanie Joyce/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Stephanie Joyce/NPR

Internally displaced people, or IDPs, have fled war and violence but unlike refugees, they have not crossed international borders to reach safety. In Georgia, there are more than 250,000 IDPs, displaced by multiple conflicts in the country’s brief post-Soviet history. As is the case for IDPs everywhere, they are dependent on their own government, not the international community, for assistance. But for Georgia’s government, figuring out how to help, and for how long, has proved complicated.

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

Following wars in the early 1990s, the government’s main response to the sudden influx of displaced people was to open up public buildings as temporary shelters. It was a stopgap solution, implemented without a long-term strategy, but as the years ticked by, it became the system. Then, in 2007, Georgia finally adopted its first official policy for addressing the needs of IDPs, which called for moving people out of those temporary shelters into more permanent housing. A decade later, that plan is still very much in progress. Shonia fled her home in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia in the early 1990s, after Russian-backed separatists took control there during a 1992-1993 war. More than two decades later, she is still living in what was supposed to be a temporary shelter, despite new government programs to give new housing to displaced people.

She explained that water ran down the walls of her room when it rained how could the government not see she was desperate for a new house?

“It is unfair that they give apartments to people who don’t deserve it and they don’t give apartments to us,” Shonia said.

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

The buildings of this former hospital complex are now home to dozens of internally displaced families. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

From across the tent, another woman offered to take me on a tour of a temporary shelter a former hospital complex turned IDP housing just behind the protest camp. Rain splashed through the hospital’s doorless entryway and into the first-floor corridor, where an old woman was chopping wood. Just inside, my tour guide pointed up at the ceiling, to a gaping hole extending all the way to the second floor. It turned out to be one of many holes throughout the building some of them inside people’s makeshift apartments, others in the hallways.

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

People heat their rooms in the former hospital buildings with woodstoves. In all of the buildings, there are huge holes in the floors and parts of the ceiling have collapsed. (Top) Claire Harbage/NPR; (Bottom) Stephanie Joyce/NPR hide caption

toggle caption (Top) Claire Harbage/NPR; (Bottom) Stephanie Joyce/NPR

It was undeniable that the building was falling apart and unsafe. So why weren’t the people living there a higher priority for new housing? I headed over to the regional office of the Ministry of Internally Displaced People to find out. Inside a drab, white-walled waiting room, a dozen people sat in rows of plastic chairs underneath an electronic ticker displaying which number was up next. A sign announced visiting hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., with a lunch break from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Everyone was silent until my translator, Mariam Aduashvili, told the security guard I was an American journalist there to speak with the deputy minister. Then the room erupted with people shouting at me in Georgian. They were annoyed, Aduashvili explained, that I was speaking to officials at the ministry.

“You should go to the settlements and talk to the IDPs, rather than come and talk to the representatives of the ministry they are not going to tell you the truth,” she paraphrased.

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

People crowd the waiting room at the Zugdidi regional office of the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons. Stephanie Joyce/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Stephanie Joyce/NPR

After a long wait, we were ushered in back to the office of the deputy minister, Manuchar Chilachava, who sat behind his desk, flanked by staffers. Yes, he was aware of the protest, he said. No, he did not have plans to go visit the protesters.

“Bad living conditions are bad living conditions,” he said. “We get it.”

But, he repeatedly explained, the ministry has rules it must follow Resolution 320.

“If they have really horrible living conditions, that … is included in the points,” Chilachava said.

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

A tree recently fell on the hospital outbuilding where Rita Jomidava, 39, lives with her children, denting the roof and collapsing part of the building. Residents of the hospital complex chopped it up for firewood. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Resolution 320, a decree adopted in 2013, lays out a point system for ranking people’s suffering to determine who gets an apartment first: Three points for those living in “particularly harsh” conditions such as “a garage, staircase of a building, watchman’s booth, self-constructed wooden/plank building, dug-out.” Three points if a family member died in the war. Three points for a family member with a disability.

“We have to follow the law,” Chilachava said. But how did Georgia end up in a situation where a law designed to help displaced people had resulted in them sewing their lips shut and threatening to set themselves on fire? I decided to go to the top the minister himself.

On the day I met Sozar Subari at the agency’s headquarters in Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi, the commission that decides who gets apartments was meeting. Inside a conference room, 20 or so people sat around a table with huge reams of paper in front of them lists of the 4,000 applicants for just 144 newly built apartments in Zugdidi.

Projected at the front of the room were photos of the inside of an IDP applicant’s house. Subari explained they were verifying that people’s living conditions were in fact as they said they were a process he readily admitted was flawed.

“To say who is living in the worst conditions is impossible because there is no clear border between them,” Subari said.

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

Some IDP families have been living in the former hospital buildings for more than 20 years, even as they have fallen into increasing disrepair. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

He professed no illusions about the problematic reality of ranking people’s suffering: “We have criteria,” he said, “but the criteria are not always fair.”

Nevertheless, he defended the system as the best way to help displaced people short of them being allowed to return to their homes in the disputed regions. By giving IDPs property, Subari argued, the government was providing the essential pre-condition for them to reintegrate into Georgian society and live as any other citizens.

“They can start businesses and become millionaires, or they can go gamble the whole thing and lose it all in the hour they can do whatever they want” with their new property, he said. “But once the government has given them accommodation, the government’s responsibility is done.”

Uprooted By Conflict, Stuck In Limbo, Yearning For A Place To Call Home

A broken pipe gushes water on the grounds of the hospital complex. Residents say there is only water in the building for a few hours a day. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

His vision is that once all displaced people have been given new housing, the ministry will no longer be necessary. He’ll put himself out of a job, and IDPs will be treated like any other Georgians.

“They are now ordinary citizens,” he said. “If they lost, they lost.”

Stephanie Joyce reported in Georgia as NPR’s Above the Fray fellow. The fellowship is sponsored by the John Alexander Project, which supports foreign reporting in undercovered parts of the world. This story was produced with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


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3 Fayetteville burglars die in Clayton County crash

Three men died in Clayton County early Monday morning after their vehicle struck another motorist and crashed into a lake. A Fayette County deputy was pursuing the vehicle in relation to a burglary at the Sprint store in Fayetteville. Three of the men involved in the burglary died as a result of the vehicle crash and a fourth man who fled the scene is in custody. Fayetteville Police Department spokesman Mike Whitlow said the security guard at the Sprint store on Ga. Highway 85 North saw a Chrysler approaching the store at approximately 4:20 a.m. Monday morning.

The guard saw three slender black males exit the vehicle and smash the store s front window, said Whitlow. The guard confronted the men, who ignored him and proceeded into the store to make a quick grab of an unknown number of items, Whitlow said. The security guard called 911 as the burglary occurred, and the thieves fled heading north on Hwy. 85 North as a Fayetteville patrol unit arrived, said Whitlow, adding that the suspects vehicle was traveling at a very high rate of speed northbound. Sheriff Barry Babb said a deputy patrolling the north Fayette area heard the call and spotted the Chrysler. The deputy pursued the vehicle into Clayton County along Pointe South Parkway which turns into Flint River Road, Babb said.

The deputy in pursuit could see the Chrysler strike another vehicle at the intersection with Taylor Road, said Babb. The deputy stopped to check the condition of the struck vehicle, believing that the Chrysler had continued on along Flint River Road. The deputy soon realized that the Chrysler had left the roadway and entered a lake. Three of the four men in the Chrysler died as a result of the crash, while the fourth man fled the scene and is being sought by Clayton County law enforcement, said Whitlow.

The motorist struck by the fleeing vehicle was not seriously injured, Whitlow said.

Paulding sheriff loses 95 years of experience with three retirements

The Paulding County Sheriff s Office recently lost more than 95 years of law enforcement experience with the retirement of three people. Two detectives with a total of 74 years of experience, and a courthouse security officer with 21 years hung up their badges. Detective Dianne Hudgins Ellison ended a 29-year career and was honored April 28.

Ellison began her career in law enforcement as a radio operator with the Paulding County Sheriff s Office in December 1987 before 911 was available in Paulding County, Henson said. During the course of her career, Ellison worked in the Juvenile Investigation/Crimes Against Children Division, Transport Division, Youth Services Division as a D.A.R.E. instructor, and the Criminal Investigations Division.

Detective Ellison is considered by her peers to be one of the most genuine and caring deputies at the sheriff s office, Henson said. A sheriff s office Facebook posting from Barbara Caldwell advised Ellison to, Please enjoy your retirement.

You were an angel to me when my grandson passed away, Caldwell wrote. Thank you for your kindness during such a difficult time.

Henson said Ellison has a distinct compassion for the victims of the domestic violence cases that she primarily works as a detective in the Criminal Investigation Division.

Detective Ellison will be sorely missed by her co-workers and the citizens she encountered every day. Sheriff s Detective Louis Guy was honored April 28 on his retirement from 45 years in law enforcement in two metro Atlanta counties. Guy began his career in law enforcement with the Marietta Police Department in 1972, where he worked for 23 years before moving to the Paulding County Sheriff s Office in 1995.

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During his career with Paulding Guy worked in the jail as a supervisor and in the Criminal Investigations Division, where he was responsible for working the majority of the white collar crime cases and identity fraud cases, said sheriff s spokesman Sgt. Ashley Henson. While in his capacity as a fraud and white collar crime detective he worked closely with state and federal law enforcement agencies. Guy also worked elder abuse cases and was assigned to a Metro Atlanta Elder Abuse Task Force, Henson said.

Detective Guy is considered by his peers to be one of the foremost experts in criminal investigations as well as fraud (and) white collar crime investigations, Henson said. He has trained countless detectives over the years and will be missed by his co-workers and the citizens he encountered every day.

During his tenure as a law enforcement officer, he has seen many changes in the profession, Henson said. Yet another recent retirement reception was held in honor of 21-year veteran Deputy Becky Poynter at the Paulding County Courthouse April 27.

Poynter began her career in law enforcement with the Paulding County Sheriff s Office in 1996. She began her career as a detention officer in the jail, transferred to the Transport Division and eventually to the Courthouse Security Division where she worked the remainder of her career.

Deputy Poynter worked daily at the Paulding County Courthouse helping to ensure the safety of our citizens, attorneys, and judges. Her hard work ethic and infectious smile will be sorely missed by her co-workers and the citizens she encountered every day, Henson said.

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