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Evictions Top the Agenda

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, August 31
Problems concerning IDP’s and street vendors still remain the main issue for debate among both majority and minority members in Tbilisi City Hall. Each of the two sides has its own view as to how the problems might be resolved; however the demands of demonstrators remain unchanged.

IDPs who have been evicted from some Tbilisi buildings and given alternative accommodation in villages are demanding homes in, or near the capital. According to the IDPs, during the pre-election period, the authorities promised the legalisation of their accommodation – the apartments in which they lived before being evicted. As for the Street Traders, they demand the legalisation of street trading.

According to the official statement of the Ministry of Internally Displaced persons from the occupied territories, Accommodation and Refuges of Georgia, “14 apartment blocks (containing a total of 368 flats) have been refurbished in Potskho-Etseri village, in Tsalenjikha region. Those apartments have constant electricity, water and are equipped with everything necessary for comfortable and safe living. Those flats are being given as private property to the IDPs.”

A majority representative of Tbilisi City Council, Koba Ionatamishvili suggested collaborating with the opposition members of the Council on those two problematic issues, “It is very possible that majority and opposition have different information regarding the refugees and street vendors. For example, the information I have is from the Ministry of Internally Displaced persons from the occupied territories, Accommodation and Refuges of Georgia, which states that among the demonstrators there are a lot of refugees who have already received compensation from the state, some are not refugees at all, and others have accommodation. The Opposition and majority should study this case in detail and then make the appropriate decision,” Ionatamishvili said.

He also commented on the issue of street vendors, “Lately, the number of street traders has increased and without the authorities' actions street vending would be huge. Those 4000 street vendors can have places in closed markets, which for 6 months will be free of charge. In addition the authorities are in negotiations with the market owners to reduce the fees for those former street traders.”

Vice-Speaker for the Opposition, Paata Davitaia accused the Government of inhumane behaviour towards the refugees and demanded the Prime Minister’s invitation to the Anti-Crisis Council sitting in Parliament. “Recent actions made towards refugees by the authorities can only be considered inhumane. Minister Koba Subeliani should not be alone in shouldering responsibility for the problem, the whole Government is responsible for this, as the strategy towards IDPs was not only adopted by just one branch of the Government,” Davitaia said.

Until there is a detailed study of the case, the process of evicting refugees and street vendors should be stopped - oppositional Republican Party representative in Tbilisi City Hall, Tina Khidasheli stated. She said, “I am categorically against forming a working group on the issue as suggested by the majority because the group might work on it for months and the problem will remain a problem. I demand that Tbilisi City Hall present the list of those buildings which it owns and where those refugees might live. The eviction of those IDPs who have lived here for years, many of them from childhood and their settlement in a village in Tsalenjikha region is a crime, I think.”

Analyst Nika Chitadze told The Messenger, “The rights of the street vendors and IDPs should be fully protected. Just talk to the street vendors - of course it is nice when the streets are clean, however, the socio-economic situation in the country and those people’s living conditions should be taken into consideration. For most of them, the money they earn from street trade is their only income. It would be right first of all to study the case in detail, how much money they earn, how do they live, choose adequate market-places for them with acceptable conditions and then start talking about their relocation and not the reverse, when first those people were displaced and only then did the authorities start thinking about where and in what conditions they might be moved.” He added, “As for IDPs I can say that dividing the IDPs into refugees from Abkhazia and refugees from so called South Ossetia is unacceptable to me. After the events of 2008 the Government built houses for refugees from so called South Ossetia and the conflict regions of Shida Kartli, which those people knew of. There should be similar action for those refugees from Abkhazia. When you evict them without holding any meetings or discussions to prepare them for the changes, especially when they overcame terrible physiological shocks of the war, is not right from a human point of view. Also many of them have managed to get involved in social activities in the city and it will be difficult for them to adapt to village life,” Chitadze said.