Georgian law leaves eco-migrants without protection

According to information provided by the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons From the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, 35, 204 families’ houses have been damaged by natural disasters. Officials estimate that a further 11, 000 families live in houses that have been damaged by natural disasters and are in urgent need of resettlement. The government has not developed a long-term strategy for managing ecological-migration and domestic law doesn’t include a definition for those who must migrate due to ecological factors. This goes against international standards and means that people are left without protection.

According to the Georgian Constitution, domestic legislation is required to correspond to universally recognized principles and rules of international law. However, the Law of Georgia on Internally Displaced Persons does not follow the UN Guiding Principals on Internal Displacement.

According to the UN definition, internally displaced persons are those “forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence- specifically as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters…”

The Law of Georgia on Internally Displaced Persons includes a similar phrase, but without reference to natural disasters. It states that a displaced person is someone “who has been forced to leave his/her home  because of armed conflict which is caused by another country, or because of civil conflict or the violation of human rights.

Thus, Georgian domestic law is not all-inclusive and does not make provisions for those people who are forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence as a result of natural or human-made disasters. Those people who are unfortunate enough to suffer this fate are left without any legal protection and are not provided with any status.

Lawyers working on this issue say that the Georgian Parliament should adopt the Law on Eco-migrants or should make an amendment to the Law on Internally Displaced Persons.

“Eco-migrants are left without any legal protection. As a result, their constitutional rights are violated – namely Article 42 of the Constitution of Georgia and Article VI of the European Convention on Human Rights” – said Rusudan Mchedlishvili, a lawyer from “Article 42 of the Constitution”.

“The needs of ecological migrants – people forced to move from their homes by natural disasters such as landslides and floods – are very much a neglected issue in Georgia. Unlike people displaced from the recent wars in Georgia, ecological migrants do not occupy a prominent position on the political agenda. Thousands of families in the Ajara and Svaneti regions are in urgent need of resettlement right now, but there are neither adequate financial resources nor a comprehensive and effective policy framework to address these urgent needs. It is now time for the government of Georgia to prioritize this issue in order to help the many people currently in need and to avoid future loss of life from environmental disasters” – said Justin Lyle, Project Coordinator at the European Centre for Ministry Issues. 

According to Majoritarian Deputy Anzor Bolkvadze, it is very important to insure worthy living conditions for ecological migrants. He points out that during the last few years, the Georgian government has granted only a fraction of the eco migrant population with alternative housing in southern Georgia and the Kakheti region.

“I have been actively participating in this process as well. This issue is newsworthy as I am the Majoritarian Deputy from Khulo. As a result of natural disasters, a lot of houses were damaged in this district and this has created a lot of ecological migrants. The government of Georgia and we – the members of parliament- are doing our best in order to solve this problem”, – comments Anzor Bolkvadze.

According to the latest information, there are approximately 11, 000 families that are in need of urgent resettlement. In the face of this challenge, the government has not resettled any families in 2009-2010. “Unfortunately, the Georgian government did not take any preventative measures last year. In the spring, natural disasters are likely to increase.  According to the statistics, the total number of those who have been killed as a result of natural disasters is more than 400. In 2008, there were two cases where whole families died as a result of natural disasters. So far, the government has not put forth any ideas or plans to address this pressing issue. I hope for the time being that nature will have mercy on us and there will not be such kinds of tragedies anytime soon. It is abundantly clear that our country is not prepared for natural disasters. Only a small handful of families are resettled each year. This is a very small amount and at this rate, it will take hundreds of years to resettle all of them.” – said Rezo Getiashvili project coordinator at CENN.   

“In the coming months, we will have a very bad situation in many regions (Adjara, Racha-Lechkhumi, mountainous regions such as Imereti, Samegrelo, Svaneti and Mtskheta-Mtianeti). These are the main risk zones. Actually, the whole of Georgia is at risk”, – said Emili Tsereteki, from the National Agency of the Environment.

It is significant to mention that resettlement does not mean an end to problems; very often a new problem begins.

“In 2005, I was resettled from Mesta to the village of Aleksandrovka, in the Tetritskaro District. However, we don’t have ownership over our houses until today. We have no idea who the owners of those houses are. Is it public or private property? Unofficially, we are told that the government is working on this issue and it will take some time to give us ownership. Though, as I have mentioned, it has already been 5 years since we have been resettled here. An additional problem is that we do not have enough agricultural lands; our main income is from farming and the given lands are not enough for living”, said Giorgi Margiani, an eco-migrant from Mestia.

In March of 2011, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN) created the Civil Coalition on Migration initiative.  The aim of this coalition is to initiate legal changes and to provide monitoring and reporting on the issue of eco-migration.

“Last year, IWPR prepared an article on eco-migration for the Caucasian Report Service. Later on, we decided to do trainings for regional journalists. Together, with CENN and the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters (GARB), we chose 20 journalists. They were trained on how to cover eco-migrant issues. After that and together with CENN, we decided to create a civil coalition on eco-migrants”, – said Giorgi Kupatadze, the editor of IWPR and one of the initiators of coalition.

The Civil Coalition on Migration united seven nongovernmental organizations: Article 42 of the Constitution; CENN, ECMI Caucasus, GARB, HRH Tbilisi, HRIDC and IWPR.

The coalition has already met with members of the Parliament of Georgia and a delegation from the European Union. Soon the coalition will meet the public defender of Georgia and the Governmental Inter-Agency Commission. 

Shorena Latatia

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