Future of Chechen Refugees in Georgia
Reporter Nina Akhmeteli, from BBC’s Russian service searched for an answer to the question: “Chechen refugees in Georgia: Will they stay or leave?”
With the assistance of international organizations, the government of Georgia tries to help hundreds of Chechen refugees start new lives in Georgia. They can get citizenship and property in Georgia. However, the prospect of a future in Georgia is not pleasing to all Chechens.
In the beginning of the second Russian-Chechen war, between 1999-2000, nearly 8,000 Chechen civilians fled to Georgia. Most of them stayed in the villages of the Pankisi valley where the Kists, relatives of the Chechens, live. Since then, many of the Chechen refugees have moved to third party countries in Europe, some of them have returned to Chechnya and some of them obtained Georgian citizenship. According to official statistics, little more than 500 Chechen refugees live in Georgia today. However, many of them still hope to leave Georgia to find a more prosperous life.
Rosetta, a mother of eight who came to Georgia along with other Chechen refugees in 1999, feels safe here. She lives in Duisi, one of the villages in the Pankisi valley. She said that they never even close their door. Her husband refused to move abroad, despite the fact that it is a common dream shared by many Chechens in the Pankisi valley. According to Rosetta, in many ways she understands her husband: he does not want his children to forget Chechen traditions and he would like to be close to their homeland. Rosetta is pleased to hear some positive changes taking place in Chechnya where her relatives still live but, like many other refugees, she is afraid to return home. “I’m afraid for my husband, who knows what might happen. Of course, we did not do anything, but there are certain cases in which people are lost. So here we are calmer despite the difficulties,” she said.
According to the Chechen refugees, unemployment is the main reason that many of them want to go abroad in search of better lives. Malika Isayeva, a mother of five, said that they receive about $100 from the government and UNHCR to support the family. “This is hardly enough to live, it is just enough not to starve to death. Now I feel the same way as I did in the first days of the war. I have the same feelings: fear, no hope and insecurity,” said Malika.
Ms Simone Wolken, the head of the UNHCR mission in Georgia, points out that Georgia meets the host country criteria, thus the resettlement of Chechen refugees is not possible in practice. “Being a refugee is never easy. Of course you are always hoping that something might happen, something to improve your situation, and today some refugees may hope for resettlement in a third country. But what is available in reality is integration in Georgia,” said Wolken.
According to the head of the UNHCR mission, today the UN is trying to help the region’s development and improve the entire population of the Pankisi valley where 12% of the population lives in extreme poverty. “It is necessary that over time, refugees who have pretty strong ethnic ties with the local population help in the development of the region to the same extent as the local population,” said Wolken.
On the other hand, the government of Georgia said that the integration of refugees has been a success. “Potential ethnic problems were avoided because the refugees were resettled in the Pankisi valley, home of the Kists,” said Tamara Martiashvili, the first Deputy Minister for Resettlement of Internally Displaced People from the Occupied Territories and Refugees.
She said their programs help refugees learn the Georgian language. “From the outset, the Georgian government took into account the language barrier and opened Russian departments in schools in the Pankisi valley. Today, the younger generation is almost completely immersed in the Georgian language and more and more refugee children are studying in the Georgian sector, and study later in Georgian faculties within universities,” said Martiashvili.
In addition, authorities say that the process of obtaining refugee Georgian citizenship is continuing.
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco