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IWPR Story Prompts Help for Gypsies in Tbilisi

Work under way to issue identification papers allowing access to public services.
By Shorena Latatia
  • Darina Seitova supports her family by begging. (Photo: Shorena Latatia)
    Darina Seitova supports her family by begging. (Photo: Shorena Latatia)

Rights workers are helping secure identification papers for gypsies in the Georgian capital Tbilisi thanks to an IWPR story describing how lack of documents prevented them accessing basic state services.

Gypsies in Georgia commonly have no formal citizenship or other legal identity, which means they cannot access public services like healthcare and schooling.

IWPR’s story Gypsies Still on the Margins in Georgia, was published in September 2011 on the basis of interviews carried out in Tbilisi’s Navtughli neighbourhood, home to many families from the gypsy community.

One interviewee, 30-year-old Jamal Ahmedov, told IWPR that a hospital had refused to treat him for liver disease, partly because he had no documents. His neighbour Elvira Mamedova described how she was unable to retrieve her daughter from a children’s home because she had no birth certificate.

After reading the story, which was republished in several local newspapers, lawyers from Georgia’s Human Rights Centre contacted one of the families interviewed and, together with the justice ministry’s registry service, are working to obtain documents for them.

“The Human Rights Centre has worked on gypsies’ problems for a long time, but in recent years there have been no cases brought to us for legal assistance,” Nino Andriashvili, a lawyer at the Human Rights Centre, said. “One reason for this may be that they lack information about human rights organisations.”

Staff at the European Centre for Minority Issues, ECMI, a Germany-based research institute, also read the story and forwarded it to the Department of Human Rights, Minorities and Rule of Law at Georgia’s National Security Council, which advises President Mikheil Saakashvili.

“They are actively working on the problems facing gypsies,” ECMI’s Caucasus project assistant Irakli Chedia said. “It’s very important to write about these issues. The kind of information that was provided in the article is very important to us.”

Jamal Ahmedov’s wife Sara said she was pleased that her community’s plight had become more widely known.

“I’ve lived in Georgia for a long time but I still can’t obtain identification papers or a passport,” she said. “I didn’t know who I should apply to, or what I needed to do to address this. I am very grateful for your help.”

IWPR’s pictures of gypsies went on display in Tbilisi as part of a photo exhibition marking International Human Rights Day on December 10.

Shorena Latatia is a freelance journalist in Georgia. 

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