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Uprooted By Conflict, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia …

Uprooted By Conflict, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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, Displaced People In The Republic Of Georgia ...

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.


  1. ^ Above the Fray (
  2. ^ John Alexander Project (

India gives $500 mn aid to Mauritius

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India on Saturday announced a $500 million line of credit to Mauritius as the two countries decided to firm up cooperation in the field of maritime security in the Indian Ocean region. The two sides signed a maritime security agreement after extensive talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Mauritian counterpart Pravind Jugnauth. In a statement, Mr. Modi said he and Mr. Jugnauth agreed that effective management of conventional and non-conventional threats in the Indian Ocean is essential to pursue economic opportunities and provide security to the people of both the countries.

We have to keep up our vigil against piracy that impacts trade and tourism, trafficking of drugs and humans, illegal fishing, and other forms of illegal exploitation of marine resources, the Prime Minister said. The bilateral maritime accord will strengthen cooperation and capacities, he said, noting that the two sides also agreed to strengthen their wide-ranging cooperation in hydrography for a secure and peaceful maritime domain.

On his part, Mr. Jugnauth said the two countries need to ensure that the sea lanes of communications are safe and secure and regular patrolling is conducted to combat illegal activities such as piracy, illegal fishing in the territorial waters and drug trafficking. A decision to extend the operational life of Coast Guard ship Guardian, that was given by India to Mauritius under a grant assistance programme, was also taken. During his visit to Mauritius in March 2015, Mr. Modi had commissioned offshore patrol vessel (OPV) Barracuda, built and financed by India, into the Mauritian Coast Guard.

Holding that Mauritius has strong defence and security ties with India, the visiting prime minister said the acquisition of such OPVs and fast interceptor boats from India has enhanced the operational capacities of its police and coast guard. Besides the maritime pact, three other agreements were also signed after talks between the two leaders. They were for setting up of a civil services college in Mauritius, one on cooperation in ocean research and the US dollar Credit Line Agreement between the SBM Mauritius Infrastructure Development Company and Export-Import Bank of India.

Line of credit

Mr. Modi said the agreement on the line of credit to Mauritius was a good example of the strong and continuing commitment to the development of that country. The two sides also decided to ramp up cooperation in a number of areas including trade and investment.

India is proud to participate actively in the ongoing development activities in Mauritius, Mr. Modi said.

Security guard throws shoes at homeless man

A Toronto security guard has been suspended following the release of a video that appears to show him throwing a pair of shoes at a homeless person lingering on Yonge Street this week. The quarrel between the pair began just after 8 a.m. Wednesday, during the morning rush to work. The video shows the man and a security guard weaving through an onslaught of pedestrians.

Caught on video

The video that captures the next moments is shaky at first, but the guard is standing in front of a building at 60 Yonge St. He takes off his jacket, walks toward the other man, and then appears to throw something at him. The argument continues until the guard picks up the homeless man’s shoes and throws them at him. One strikes the man in the ribs, the other in the back of his leg.

The person who recorded the video did not want to be identified. But the videographer wrote in an email to CBC News about seeing the security guard punch the homeless man before the filming began.

Security firm investigates

The security guard works for GardaWorld, which told CBC Toronto it is investigating the incident.

“GardaWorld was forwarded the video taken by the bystander. Upon receipt, it was immediately transferred to our corporate security team for investigation,” the firm said in a written statement. “The employee in question has been suspended pending further investigation.”

It’s unclear whether the incident could result in criminal charges.

Security Guard Throws Shoes At Homeless Man

This security guard is under investigation after being caught on video throwing shoes at a homeless man. (Submitted to CBC)

Const. Victor Kwong said that just by looking at the video, it’s hard to tell whether the security guard breached any laws.

“What we have to do is keep in mind of what this didn’t capture as well,” Kwong said. “We have to step back and take a look at the whole picture and see why it is the situation got to where it is.”

A spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty said regardless of what sparked the altercation, the security worker acted inappropriately.

“I’m sure that security guard has his own side, but I don’t think that there’s any good explanation for why someone could act that way,” A.J. Withers said.

‘Homeless people are invisible to most people.’ – A.J. Withers, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

This happens far too often in Toronto, the poverty advocate said.

“Homeless people are dehumanized all the time and often victims of violence,” Withers said. “I’m sure it’s shocking to many people but, sadly, it’s something that we hear about or see all the time.”

The man in the video told CBC Toronto that he has been homeless for several years. Several people can be seen walking by him during the confrontation, but no one tried to stop it.

“It’s heartbreaking that no one intervenes, but it’s also not surprising,” Withers said. “That’s what you see on the street all the time, right? Homeless people are invisible to most people.”

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