Will the clock start again for refugees?
Being a refugee means living in between, no longer in the home that was left, and not making a new home. Time, the normal progression of life, is suspended. Whether someone becomes a refugee as recognized by international organizations by crossing borders, or whether one remains within the same country as an internally displaced person (IDP), the effect is the same. The Heinrich Boell Foundation office in Tbilisi is currently hosting an exhibition of works by German photographer Uwe Schober that he shot in Georgia among refugees following the war with Russia in 2008.
Director Iris Kempe used on of thirty’s works, showing a stopped clock in a Gori building attacked by Russian forces, to introduce a debate on the current status of IDPs in Georgia. For some, the clock stopped in 1993; for others, almost a year ago.
Medea Turashvili (International Crisis Group); Julia Kharashvili, Head of the Department for External Affairs at the Ministry of IDP Issues of the Georgian Government; and Marina Pochkhua (IDP Women Association “Consent”) discussed the situations facing IDPs, as well as government and international efforts to assist tem.
Questions remain about how to get their clocks started again. What must be done immediately? What are the priorities in the medium term? What about long-term return, or acknowledgement that many will never return? What should be done when these goals conflict?
One key divisions among Georgian IDPs is between the “old” and the “new”; those who were displaced as a result of the conflicts in 1993, and those who joined them after hostilities in 2008. Political priorities, particularly surrounding questions of return, make even medium-term action to help IDPs more difficult. Speakers and questioners from the audience both said that the official communications from the government as well as the opposition do not reflect the realities faced by IDPs.
But neither the IDPs nor the relief agencies that work with them are unanimous. Some former farmers want nothing more than to go home, or failing that, new land to work. Others believe that their old lives are lost for good, and want to take up new skills. Some advocates push for settling IDPs in areas of Georgia that are otherwise losing population. Some people feel more integrated in their new settings than they would returning to a changed homeland. In short, this is a difficult problem, and any solution will leave some groups or individuals dissatisfied.