Georgia Taskforce Lobbies for Disaster Victims

  • Taskforce disscussion on legal issues surrounding IDPs. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Ramaz Lursmanashvili, adviser to the minister for internally displaced persons, answers questions about state policy towards eco-migrants. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Eco-migrant from the Ajara region, Avtandil Kochalidze, talks about problems which he and others face after resettlement. (Photo: IWPR)

A taskforce campaigning for natural disaster victims, which was set up following an IWPR-hosted gathering on the subject, has been drawing local and international attention to the problems faced by so-called eco-migrants.

In early February, IWPR’s Tbilisi office hosted a round-table discussion on the difficulties communities displaced or otherwise affected by natural disasters have in getting assistance from the state.

The IWPR round-table participants discussed the vulnerability of communities in mountainous and coastal areas of Georgia and examined government policies towards disaster victims. As well as NGO representatives and victims’ groups, the event was attended by several senior officials - including members of the ministry for IDPs and the national environment agency - and well as parliamentary representatives.

As opposed to people displaced through armed conflict, those whose homes have been destroyed by floods and landslides receive little government attention due to shortcomings in legislation on internally displaced persons, IDPs.

The round-table participants discussed the vulnerability of communities in mountainous and coastal areas of Georgia and examined government policies towards disaster victims. As well as NGO representatives and victims’ groups, the event was attended by several senior officials - including members of the ministry for IDPs and the national environment agency - and well as parliamentary representatives.

The major problem that participants identified was the lack of a state policy for managing disasters - which impeded effective national and international assistance - as well as the absence of a legal status for eco-migrants and the fact that no government ministry takes overall responsibility for them.

“The problem is serious and needs to be addressed urgently. If we want it settled, we need legislation that would vest eco-migrants with official status, which would make efforts aimed at alleviating their plight more effective,” said Tariel Beridze, head of the coastline protection department at the National Environmental Agency of Georgia.

Participants agreed to set up a taskforce group of seven organisations (including IWPR, the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network, the European Centre for Minority Issues and Human Rights House Tbilisi) to press the government to address the eco-migrant issue and to raise it with international organisations.

The round-table event was preceded by a TV programme on eco-migrants which was broadcast by member stations of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters (GARB). The programme included reports prepared by journalists from the country’s ten most natural-disaster-affected regions, who were trained by IWPR in December 2010 in cooperation with CENN. Particular interest in the subject arose as a result of IWPR article Natural Disaster Victims Claim Neglect by Tea Topuria.

In March, the new taskforce set about drawing attention to the eco-migrant problem with a series of initiatives.

Firstly, representatives of the group met Juan Echanove, task manager at the European Union Delegation to Georgia and Tata Khuntsaria, Georgia’s deputy public defender. 

Echanove acknowledged there was a problem. “Unfortunately, Georgia has no state policy targeting eco-migrants and no ministry we could effectively cooperate with [on the subject],” he said, adding that international organisations would find it easier to help these victims if they were granted IDP status.

“Certainly, the public defender’s office will join the process, we are ready to investigate every complaint we receive,” Khuntsaria said. “Besides, we plan visits to affected communities to assess the situation on the ground. Representatives of the organisations working on the eco-migrant issue will be very welcome to participate in these trips.”

Subsequently, the taskforce met to discuss a risk mitigation plan for disaster-prone areas, and it was decided to send monitoring missions to the most vulnerable regions next spring, when the risk of flooding and landslides is particularly high. Human rights organisations involved in the group volunteered to provide free legal advice to people from the high-risk regions

Also in March, the taskforce visited the Georgian parliament to meet legislators representing seven regions that have first-hand knowledge of disaster-induced displacement. Members of the group drew the deputies’ attention to what they said were shortcomings in Georgian legislation that restrict eco-migrants’ access to assistance.

Anzor Bolkvadze, deputy speaker of the Georgian parliament, who represents a district of Ajara, said of the taskforce’s aims, “You know that the disasters that have befallen Ajara in the past years have left many families badly affected, and they are now seeking help. The issue you’ve broached is interesting and needs to be thoroughly considered. For now, I promise that we’ll hold all the necessary consultations and do what is beneficial for the affected populations.”