Repatriation Issues for Muslim Meskhetians

Repatriation Issues for Muslim Meskhetians

Muslim Georgians from Atskuri
Muslim Georgians from Atskuri — Image Credits

Speakers:

  • Irakli Kokaia – Head of the Division for Refugees and Repatriation, Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refuges of Georgia;
  • Emil Adelkhanov – Member, Amnesty International;
  • Jana Sommerlund – International Project Manager, ECMI;
  • Gia Tarkhan-Mouravi – Co-Director, Institute for Policy Studies.

It has been 67 years since Meskhetians were exiled from Georgia by the Soviet Regime.  In November 1944, the entire Muslim population living in Georgia’s south-eastern province of Meskheti, including the Karapapak, Kurds, Gipsy and Turks were forcefully evicted from their homes and were deported to Central Asia. Later, 10.000 soldiers, members of displaced families who returned to Georgia from the WWII, were also deported. In all, total number of deported population to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kirgizstan was more than 100.000, out of which only several hundred managed to return to homeland Georgia.

In 1999, after joining the Council of Europe, Georgia committed itself to repatriate Muslim Meskhetians. In 2007, following the adoption of the Law on Repatriation, a legal framework for Meskhetians’ return was developed.      

Irakli Kokaia, Head of the Division for Refugees and Repatriation, Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refuges of Georgia, talked about the Law on Repatriation adopted by the Georgian Parliament in 2007 and about terms and timeframe of application process. According to Kokaia, from the number of applications received by the Ministry, only 75 were fully completed (without mistakes). The permission to repatriate was granted to these applicants. Around 2100 people submitted full documentation to the Ministry, but their applications lacked Certificates of Resettlement, therefore, the Council of Elders’ has been established by the Ministry in order to facilitate proving of resettlement of applicants’ ancestors. As Kokaia said it is less important to know sources upon which the Council of Elder’s will rely in providing the Ministry with proofs of deportation. The Ministry expects to hear an answer from the Council during their next meeting, scheduled by the end of November 2011. According to Kokaia, there are also several applicants lacking other documents. The Ministry gave them several months of additional time to collect necessary documentation.

Jana Sommerlund, International Project Manager at ECMI talked about the EU-funded project implemented in cooperation with the Action Against Hunger (ACH) and the Alpe Foundation. The title of the project is “Promoting repatriation of persons and their descendants deported from Georgia in 1940’s.” These groups include not only Mekhetians, but also Hemshins, Kurds, Karapapak and all other ethnical minorities deported from Georgia in 1944. The program has several components: Support to the Georgian government in repatriation process; education, including organization of public lectures and seminars; awareness raising, organization of cultural events and financing research.

Sommerlund also introduced the book “Meskhetians: Way to Home” to the audience. The book was published by the European Center for Minority Issues. The authors are Tom Trier, Gia Tarkhan-Mouravi and Forrest Kilimnik.

Emil Adelkhanov, a member of the Amnesty International, talked about the gaps and collisions in the Law on Repatriation. These gaps have become a barrier to many Meskhetians wishing to repatriate to Georgia. An amount of the documentation that has to be submitted to the Ministry, biometrical pictures, language constrains, no time-frame set for the review of applications, absence of the right to appeal the Commission’s decision – these according to Adelkhanov are some gaps of the Law on Repatriation. Despite the fact that the Law on Repatriation is in place, many Meskhetians prefer to return to their homeland spontaneously. It means they are not aware of the requirements of the law or whatever is written in the law is not acceptable for them. Spontaneous return has its negative impact, says Emil Adelkhanov. He brought several concrete examples of crossing the Georgian borders spontaneously, which according to him, ended up with imprisonment. All these create an impression that the government tries to have less returnees.

Gia Tarkhan-Mouravi, Co-Director of Public Political Institute, considers that the Georgian government seems less willing to actually implement repatriation. According to Tarkhan-Mouravi, Georgia considers repatriation as an obligation “imposed by others” and not as a moral imperative. According to him, in addition to the gaps in the law and some procedural complications, other problems also exist, among them lack of preparation of returnees and locals prior repatriation. The speaker considers that nothing is done in order to raise awareness of the public about these issues.

What are the steps undertaken by the Georgian government to repatriate Mesketians to Georgia? Is there an accurate list of deported persons? What are the gaps of the Law on Repatriation? How and where the repatriated families live? Was it easy for the repatriated families to integrate in the new environment? What are the main problems Meskhetians face in the process of repatriation? What does the fact that the number of applications is far less than the number of Meskhetians who live in exile mean? Does it show that there is no desire on the side of Meskhetians and their descendants to return to Georgia or they are not aware about the Law on Repatriation? What has been done to prepare the Georgian public for receiving repatriates? How many people have been granted the status of a repatriate and how many could not provide the proof of deportation? Who are the members of the Elderly Council and what are resources they rely upon? What are obstacles in organizing meetings with Mesketians living in Azerbaijan?  - These were questions asked by the audience during the debate. Some of the questions were answered and some were not. Postponed problems and questions may be expanded in the future.

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