Repatriate Meskhs and delayed reintegration

Sarvar Safarov’s historical surname is Lazishvili. He is a descendent of the Muslim Meskhs that were exiled from Georgia and after the law on repatriation was adopted in Georgia. He returned back to his homeland from Azerbaijan in May 2008. Sarvar Safarov settled in Akhaltsikhe, purchased a house with his own money and also brought his family there. Despite all that the Safarovs could so far not get a Georgian citizenship. They cannot properly integrate into the local society. “We could not get a citizenship and our children cannot get education in Georgia; if any of us have health problems, it is also a problem; pregnancy is a problem, job is a problem. Unless you have a Georgian citizenship, you will face many problems,” Sarvar Safarov told a representative of the Human Rights House Tbilisi. Like him, many repatriates in Georgia have problems of reintegration.

In 1944, about 80 000 untrustworthy people, mostly Muslim Meskhs, were resettled from the Soviet Georgia to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kirgizstan “to enhance the border defense.” Their possible repatriation was discussed for the first time in independent Georgia in 1999 – when the country joined the Council of Europe and took the responsibility to return Muslim Meskhs. In 2007, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the law on repatriation. The Law envisages the return of those people that were resettled from the country for different reasons to their permanent place of residence or place of origin. The repatriate status helps them to get a Georgian citizenship easier; however the state did not take other obligations before them..
According to the information of the Ministry of IDPs from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees, over 1500 people applied to Georgia for the return and 1533 people received the status of repatriate. The application deadline expired on January 1, 2010.
Currently about 900 so called self-repatriate Muslim Meskhs live in Georgia. The majority returned from Azerbaijan. Among them is Abamuslim Arifov. His Georgian surname is Tavdgiridze. Arifov returned to Georgia after the Rose Revolution. He said that he and his family trusted the Government of Georgia and the law on repatriation, and returned to their historical homeland. “Initially we did not have problems. The negative processes started five years ago. My son was deported from the country and he could not come home for two years. Thanks to kind people, including Father Timothe and the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II, which helped us in integrating, the problems were resolved,” said Abamuslim, which is now the head of the Sokar patrol station in Akhaltsikhe. He hopes that the Government of Georgia will finally make a decision in his favor.
Association Tolerant has for several years been studying the problems of the repatriate Meskhs. Representatives of the Association said that the main problem of the repatriates is getting a Georgian citizenship. The rejection of the Azerbaijan citizenship is also a problem. According to repatriates, the state imposes a fine on them for leaving their citizenship – one person shall for that pay 160 Azerbaijan manat. Unofficially a person will need about 400 manat to travel to Baku and arrange the citizenship issue on the place. A family with 4 children will have to pay a solid sum to leave the Azerbaijan citizenship.
Head of Tolerant, Tsira Meskhishvili, believes the legislation hinders the repatriation. “The Law on Repatriation has many gaps. A person that receives the status of repatriate has the right to apply to the Government of Georgia for Georgian citizenship within two years, and get citizenship with a simpler rule. In the first stage the Government of Georgia grants the promised citizenship to the applicant. The repatriate will get the citizenship only after they reject the citizenship of the country from where he/she was resettled. As for leaving a citizenship, it is even more complicated. In the complicated process of overcoming bureaucratic barriers the two-year term of the citizenship-promised applicant might have expired and the applicant is returned to the status of a deported citizen. They also lose the chance to get social aid.”
According to Meskhishvili, since repatriate Muslim Meskhs do not have a Georgian citizenship, their children cannot get pupil status, voucher and certificate after leaving the school.
Representatives of the Akhaltsikhe based nongovernmental organization think the state does not have an individual concept on the repatriation process. The most problematic issue is that relevant institutions denies applicants to grant repatriate status:
“I know that the status is not granted easily. Applicant’s criminal past and health conditions are checked; so if a person gets the status of repatriate, his/her background is studied thoroughly. Supposedly, the ministries do not coordinate: the Ministry of Refugees grants repatriate status to applicants but the Ministry of Justice does not grant residence permit to them. Yunus Arifov and his mother have lived in Georgia for 7 years. They were not allowed to live in Georgia because allegedly “they create a threat” for the country. “It should finish once and for ever,” said Tsira Meskhishvili.
Chief manager at the Association Tolerant, Gocha Natenadze, said that a person is morally rehabilitated when he gets the repatriate status. “They come here with the feeling that they are equal with us and get very annoyed when they receive completely different feedback from us. Finally, people will get annoyed about Georgia,” said Gocha Natenadze.
Lawyer of Human Rights House Tbilisi, Eka Kobesashvili, spoke about the problem: “Yunus Arifov and Dilara Arifova living in Akhaltsikhe, that are members of one family, and have repatriate status, might be compelled to leave Georgia: State Service Development Agency of the Ministry of Justice refused to grant them residence permit based on completely ungrounded arguments. The Arifovs’ family member is a Georgian citizen and if the rest of the family members are deported from Georgia, it will breach the unity of the family, which is fundamental human rights.”
Representatives of the Ministry of IDPs from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees said that a deported person that has repatriate status can arrive in Georgia and purchase a house in any region of Georgia.
Head of the Repatriation and Refugee Department at the Ministry, Irakli Kokaia, said that “In accordance to the Law of Georgia on the Repatriation of the People Internally Displaced from Soviet Georgia in 1940s” 1533 persons received repatriate status. Among them 418 people applied for repatriation to the Georgian Consulate in Azerbaijan and all of them received a promised citizenship; they will receive the full citizenship as soon as they leave their second [Azerbaijan] citizenship.”
As for the people that arrived in Georgia without following the requirements of the law, are not repatriates and their procedures shall be regulated under the Law of Georgia on Legal Status of Foreign and Stateless Citizens;” as for their citizenship, it is regulated by the Organic Law of Georgia on Georgian Citizenship. The representative of the Ministry wrote about “the fee” which applicants have to pay for leaving Azerbaijan citizenship. “It is difficult to say whether it is true or not. We do not have mechanisms to address this issue – if we start any procedures, Azerbaijan side might evaluate it as interference in their internal affairs.”
According to the information provided from the Ministry of IDPs, Accommodation and Refugees, the state adopted the repatriation strategy in September 2014. They currently work on the action plan. As the Ministry representatives clarify, it is beyond their competence to identify who and why someone was refused to get a Georgian citizenship.
Human Rights House Tbilisi is waiting for the clarifications from the relevant institution, though in vain.

Giorgi Janelidze

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