08TBILISI1241, IDP RETURNEES TO GALI FACE CHALLENGES BEYOND

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1241 2008-07-17 13:43 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO9842
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #1241/01 1991343
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171343Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9771
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001241 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT. FOR EUR/CARC, PRM 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM GG
SUBJECT: IDP RETURNEES TO GALI FACE CHALLENGES BEYOND 
SECURITY 
 
REF: TBILISI 2146 
 
1. Summary and Comment:  Poloff traveled to the largely 
ethnic-Georgian Gali district of the breakaway Republic of 
Abkhazia June 23-25 to learn more about the lives of Georgian 
internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had returned to their 
homes. Many of the estimated 40,000 IDPs who have returned to 
Gali depend on subsistence agriculture, hazelnut and mandarin 
farming, and small-scale trading of everyday goods.  They 
have either returned to their own homes or have moved into 
the home of a relative, though many of the homes in the 
region have been destroyed. Many of the IDPs that remain 
displaced inside Georgia proper have not returned because of 
a combination of factors: their homes were destroyed during 
the war, lack of economic opportunities, safety, and ongoing 
Abkhaz hostility to the return of ethnic Georgians north of 
Gali.  UN police stationed in Gali report that crime rates 
dropped last year, though there are still seasonal spikes in 
crime during the hazelnut harvest in October. 
 
2. Summary and Comment continued: Many of the ethnic 
Georgians who fled Gali during the war returned within a few 
years, only to flee again when hostilities resumed in 1998. 
President Saakashvili's disbanding of the Georgian 
government-backed paramilitary groups following his election 
in 2003 and an extensive demining program (partially funded 
by the USG) along the Inguri river vastly improved the 
security situation in Gali, paving the way for large-scale 
return of IDPs there.  The United Nations High Commission for 
Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that approximately 40,000 IDPs 
have returned since 2003.  The timely return of the remaining 
230,000 IDPs remains a key priority for the Georgian 
government, though creating the conditions for safe and 
voluntary return will be a challenge.  The Abkhaz remain 
strongly opposed to IDP return north of Gali out of concern 
they will become a minority in their own "country."  Property 
disputes, lack of housing, decaying infrastructure and a 
stagnant, corrupt economy point to millions of dollars and 
years of rehabilitation before most would be willing to call 
Abkhazia home again.  End Summary and Comment. 
 
Many IDPs have limited options 
------------------------------ 
3.  Poloff spoke with IDPs on both sides of the conflict 
zone, both returnees and those still displaced, to get an 
accurate picture of conditions for each group.  Many of the 
IDPs originally from Gali live in Zugdidi, on the Georgian 
side of the conflict zone, surviving on a 27 lari (USD 19) a 
month stipend from the Georgian government.  Most 
occasionally return to visit relatives, mainly grandparents, 
living in Gali, but otherwise stay on the Georgian side 
living in remote, dilapidated collective centers or renting 
rooms from local families.  Those fortunate enough to have 
arable land in Gali (but remain wary of returning 
permanently) migrate each summer to tend to their hazelnut 
and mandarin crops, returning to Zugdidi during the winter. 
Many other IDPs have found themselves stuck between having 
land to farm but no home in Gali or having a home (usually a 
collective housing center) in Georgia but no land or work. 
IDPs who have returned to their homes in Gali manage to 
survive by selling hazelnuts and mandarins, or by small scale 
trading of goods from Georgia.  These returnees nevertheless 
face daily harassment, bureaucratic obstacles and high and 
often arbitrary taxes and fines imposed by Abkhaz officials. 
 
4.  The "Tea Plantation" collective center is a twenty minute 
drive from Zugdidi, remotely located atop a hill at the end 
of a long, winding dirt road.  Approximately 85 IDPs live in 
dorms with drooping roofs and warped floors that formerly 
served as homes for workers at the plantation.  The 
plantation, which is no longer operating, was privatized by 
the Georgian government three years ago, though no one knows 
what plans the new owner has for the complex.  IDPs living 
here are thus stuck in decrepit two-story dorms, crumbling 
from age and neglect, because no one is willing to invest 
money into their repair out of fear that once the repairs are 
finished, the owner will kick the IDPs out and sell the 
property for a profit.  The plantation's remote location 
makes it difficult for the IDPs living there to find work in 
Zugdidi, and all the families we spoke with relied 
exclusively on their 27 lari/month stipend, renting land from 
locals to grow food crops.  A few IDPs from the collective 
center have returned to Gali, but the majority cannot because 
they have no place to go.  Several saw their houses burned 
down during the war, while others from Ochimchire and further 
north said Abkhaz legal restrictions and general hostility to 
Georgians has kept them away. 
 
Abkhaz bureaucratic harassment 
------------------------------ 
 
TBILISI 00001241  002 OF 003 
 
 
5.  According to the UN human rights office in Gali, IDP 
returnees are regularly harassed by local Abkhaz 
administration o
fficials, border guards and customs 
officials, though in practice this seems more prevalent in 
the town of Gali and north toward Ochimchire.  The UN human 
rights officer, Ryszard Komenda, characterized this 
harassment as more ethnic discrimination than physical 
intimidation and threats of violence.  Much of the harassment 
exists to make everyday life a chore for ethnic Georgians who 
have returned - forcing them to return 2-3 times to 
government offices to complete routine paperwork, imposing 
arbitrary taxes on goods bought and sold, and subjecting 
those crossing administrative borders to lengthy questioning 
and demands for bribes.  Zugdidi residents deal with frequent 
closings of the main bridge over the Inguri river and are 
often forced to pay bribes as high as 1000 rubles (USD 40) 
each time they cross. 
 
6.  The 2005 Abkhaz citizenship law added another layer to 
this official harassment, making it much harder for ethnic 
Georgians living in Gali to conduct routine business without 
an Abkhaz "passport."  Gali residents cannot open a bank 
account, (legally) own property or travel beyond Gali without 
one.  The Gali district is the last district in Abkhazia to 
undergo the Abkhaz passportization process, which began there 
in March 2008.  Komenda said there has not been much interest 
from IDP returnees in getting passports because they do not 
see any real benefits to gaining Abkhaz citizenship, nor has 
there been much pressure (yet) from Abkhaz authorities to 
force the issue.  He noted that while they issue as many as 
400 new Abkhaz passports a week in Gagra, only four had been 
issued in Gali over the past few months.  It is widely 
thought that de-facto president Bagapsh will push for more 
Gali residents to have passports by the end of the year, so 
they can vote in the upcoming 2009 'presidential' elections 
(note: Gali residents' support is widely thought to have 
secured Bagapsh's victory in the 2004 election.  Gali 
residents can skirt the passport law by signing a 
(non-binding) waiver "renouncing" their Georgian citizenship, 
which allows them to keep their Georgian passport, though not 
many have done so, perhaps out of concern that they will lose 
their IDP stipends paid by the Georgian government. End note). 
 
Southern Gali 
------------- 
7.  Abkhaz checkpoints and harassment by de-facto officials 
does not seem to be as pervasive in the southern part of Gali 
district, where ethnic Georgians can cross over into Georgia 
without having to cross the Inguri river.  Poloff spoke with 
returnees from the villages of Otobaya and Nabakevi, 
recipients of UNHCR small business grants.  Several of the 
returnees we spoke with had used the grants to set up small 
roadside kiosks, selling products purchased in Georgia. 
Others purchased dairy cows or seeds for growing crops. 
Nearly all supplemented their meager incomes by selling 
hazelnuts and mandarins, which grow in abundance in the 
region.  Zurab, a returnee in the village of Otobaya, used 
UNHCR's USD 300 grant to build a small roadside kiosk, where 
he sells staples such as flour, sugar, oil, gum, and 
cigarettes purchased in Georgia.  Despite the recent 
escalation of tension between Georgia and Abkhazia, he said 
he felt safe and has had no problems transporting goods 
across the administrative boundary.  He also said he harvests 
between 300-400 kg of hazelnuts each year, selling them for 
about 3 lari/kg (about USD 2/kg), and netting between 
750-1050 lari (USD 528-740) after paying taxes to Abkhaz 
de-facto authorities. 
 
8.  Most returnees are not as fortunate as Zurab, however.  A 
UNHCR official noted that most families sell their hazelnut 
crops a year or more in advance to make ends meet, and 
harvest yields vary considerably.  Taxes levied by the 
de-facto authorities are often arbitrary and steep.  While 
Zurab said he paid only about 80 lari (USD 56) in taxes on 
his hazelnuts, some villages, particularly those north of 
Gali, are forced to pay a tax of 100-120kg of hazelnuts to 
the de-facto authorities.  Those who have small hazelnut 
groves or a bad harvest are forced to buy nuts on the open 
market to pay the tax. 
 
UN: Crime not a serious problem in Gali 
--------------------------------------- 
 
9.  The UN police observers stationed in Gali-Zugdidi noted 
that crime in Gali and Ochimchre was "not that bad" 
considering the size of the population (Note: this 
conversation took place before the recent string of bombings 
in Abkhazia, including the blast at a Gali cafe that killed 
an off-duty UN interpreter.  End note).  They said that out 
of a population of 95,000, they report between 2-8 crimes per 
 
TBILISI 00001241  003 OF 003 
 
 
month, mostly robberies or bride kidnappings.  They 
characterized Georgian media reporting on the criminal 
situation in Gali as exaggerated, and the crimes that are 
reported are often ethnic Georgians targeting other ethnic 
Georgians.  Because of the depressed economy and relative 
poverty of the population, there is not much to steal, save 
mandarins and hazelnuts - harvest season is when they see the 
largest spikes in criminal activity.  They noted that Abkhaz 
police are largely corrupt and unprofessional, showing almost 
no interest in UN police training programs.  They also 
assessed the feasibility of a joint Georgian-Abkhaz police 
force to be remote at best, given the inherent mistrust 
between the sides and the vast gap in professional standards 
between the two police forces. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
TEFFT

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